WASHINGTON, D.C. — Each lawmaker is given one ticket to invite a guest to join them for the State of the Union. For U.S. Congressman Peter DeFazio, he invited Master Chief Petty Officer Jason Vanderhaden from the U.S. Coast Guard to highlight that the Coast Guard never stopped protecting the nation’s borders during the government shutdown, and all while going unpaid.
“Master Chief is the senior-most enlisted member of the Coast Guard,” DeFazio told The World prior to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union. “Obviously, the junior ranks of enlisted were hit hardest in the shutdown, people just starting their careers in the Coast Guard who don’t have a lot of savings, have families and aren’t getting paychecks.”
While the longest partial shutdown in the nation’s history drug on, which has ended for now, DeFazio spoke with Coast Guardsmen in Coos Bay and places like Seattle, Wash. In an effort to help get them paychecks, he introduced a bipartisan bill and got close to 180 cosponsors. But that isn’t enough to push it through.
“They were the only uniformed military service not paid during the shutdown because their budget comes from a different agency,” DeFazio said. “I wanted to highlight the fact that the Coast Guard was still out there 24/7 protecting our borders, doing maritime interdiction on drugs, doing rescues, and weren’t getting paid. I thought (Vanderhaden) was the best representative I could have.”
For Vanderhaden, he said he was there in D.C. in his dress uniform, proud to be representing the Coast Guard and raise visibility for his fellow service members.
“We couldn’t have a better advocate to the men and women of the Coast Guard than Peter DeFazio,” he said. “He has championed us for many years, but especially during the shutdown. The more visibility the Coast Guard has, the better off it is for us.”
As Vanderhaden explained it, the Coast Guard is the home game in terms of armed forces. When people join its ranks, they feel like they join the military.
“It was disheartening when we had a lapse of appropriation and weren’t being paid while fellow armed services were,” he said.
Not only that, but DeFazio pointed out that during the shutdown the Coast Guard provided security for other armed services. This included security for the submarine base and operations in Washington state and running patrol for the U.S. Navy.
To ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again, DeFazio has sponsored legislation in the House to prevent future shutdowns by having automatic continued resolutions 90 days at a time when there are disagreements in the budget.
“There’ve been too many of these things, they cost money, they are disruptive, we lose talented federal employees and members of the Coast Guard when these things happen, and it causes recruitment problems when people look for steady work and pay,” DeFazio summed up.
If approved, this legislation would mean every 90 days during budget disagreements, appropriations would be continued without additions or reductions until a permanent appropriation is made.
However, DeFazio said the legislation has been met with resistance from committees that feel it stomps on their jurisdiction.
Vanderhaden explained that during the shutdown, no Coast Guard members were allowed to leave even though they weren’t being paid. Otherwise they would be considered AWOL. But because of what members endured during the shutdown, it may impact whether or not members reenlist once their contracts are up.
In addition, Vanderhaden spoke with the Coast Guard’s recruitment offices and found there had been impacts with people wanting to join.
“If someone is on the fence joining the Navy or the Coast Guard and they see the Navy is getting paid, it changes their decision,” he said.
Not only that, but the Coast Guard recruits from other services for its pilots, lawyers and engineers through a direct commission service. The shutdown impacted decisions from those coming in through that program, as some held off choosing whether or not to come over until they saw what would happen with its appropriation.
DeFazio also pointed to Trump’s border wall, which has been advertised as being a barrier to illegal immigrants, but said “nothing could be further from the truth.”
“We found through the trial of El Chapo that drugs are brought in through the legal ports of entry because the odds are so good they will get through because we don’t have the people or technology to screen the trucks,” DeFazio said. “The Coast Guard intercepted $5.6 billion on the high seas last year and the former commandant said in testimony that they are only going after 20 percent of what has been identified as drug shipments because they don’t have enough air assets, personnel and boats.”
DeFazio wants to see a deal made through Homeland Security that these Coast Guard needs are met. Doing so would allow the Coast Guard to better protect the border, but only if Congress made more of an investment in personnel and equipment.
“Unfortunately, President Trump continues his relentless pursuit of funding for a wall along the southern border,” DeFazio said in a press release after the State of the Union. “We cannot address 21st century challenges with medieval technology. I believe that we need strategic, evidence-based investments in our ports of entry and our maritime border that will allow us to prevent drug, human, and weapons smuggling, deter people who attempt to illegally enter the United States, deport those that commit crimes, and regain control of our borders.”