March 2, 2017 10:45:50 AM
WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's budget would eliminate a $600 million-plus state-of-the-art Coast Guard cutter that's a priority of the powerful Republican chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The proposal by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is included in draft documents of the White House budget request. The documents, obtained by The Associated Press, ask the Department of Homeland Security to cancel its contract with Ingalls Shipbuilding, which is to construct the national security cutter at its shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
The move is a direct slap at Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, who added $640 million to build the ship to a catchall spending bill that passed in December 2015. The ship was not requested by the Coast Guard.
And there's an added twist: Cochran had publicly wavered last month about supporting Mulvaney's nomination and had been a critic of the former tea party congressman from South Carolina. Cochran ended up voting for Mulvaney, which saved Vice President Mike Pence from having to alter travel plans to cast a tie-breaking vote.
The documents say at least $500 million could be saved by canceling the contract and the money would be spent elsewhere in the homeland security budget for next year. Cochran, R-Miss., who also chairs the subcommittee that oversees defense spending, is certain to fight the cut.
"There are responsible ways to reduce spending," said Cochran spokesman Stephen Worley. "Weakening our nation's first line of defense against drug cartels and human trafficking isn't one of them."
Ingalls spokeswoman Beci Branton said in an email that "the impact of OMB's direction to the Coast Guard is unknown at this time." She said the shipbuilder has already purchased some materials and is in the pre-production stage.
Ingalls employs 11,000 workers, more than half of them in well-paying union positions. But it's unclear how many jobs might be threatened by Mulvaney's move, if it succeeds.
The national security cutter program is part of an expensive and delay-plagued program to replace the Coast Guard's older fleet. The ships are more than 400 feet long and have a helipad and modern weapons systems.
For years, Cochran was among the most prolific sponsor of so-called earmarks -- pet projects for one's state or congressional district -- before they were banned in 2011 after Republicans took back the House. The cutter doesn't fit the official definition of an earmark but is widely seen as one.
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