BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. NELSON. Mr. President, we finally have the Coast Guard bill here. I want to urge our colleagues to support the passage of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018. We have worked on it and passed it through committee. We have been in intensive discussions with the House, and finally, the final product is here.
Coast Guard personnel live by the motto ``Always Ready.'' Just last month, I saw firsthand how Coast Guard efforts in protecting life and property followed Hurricane Michael up in the Panhandle of Florida. Coast Guard ships, planes, and helicopters came from across the country to help hundreds of people on the Florida coastline and inland, and the Coast Guard, as always, was there to assist--``Always Ready,'' their motto. In Panama City, the shallow-water response teams provided food, water, and oxygen and ensured the relocation of over 130 nursing home residents, 35 of whom were bedridden, and they saw them to safety and medical care as far away as Pensacola. The Coast Guard also conducted damage assessments to facilitate the reopening of the Florida waterways and ports. This isn't something new; the Coast Guard provided similar efforts to Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico following Hurricanes Irma and Maria last fall.
If there is a disaster, aside from the Federal Agency tasked--FEMA-- you can bet your boots that the Coast Guard is going to be there. During just 5 weeks of the 2017 hurricane season a year ago, the Coast Guard saved over 11,000 people and more than 1,000 pets and mobilized nearly 3,000 personnel. For Hurricane Maria alone, a year ago, the Coast Guard deployed over 500 personnel, 7 helicopters, 17 planes, and 14 cutters. And you know the devastation that Hurricane Maria did on the island of Puerto Rico.
On behalf of Floridians, I thank the Coast Guard for their hurricane response and invaluable assistance provided to storm victims. We owe the Coast Guard our gratitude for their readiness and service to the Nation. When mariners are out in their fishing boats and get stranded out in the ocean, who are they so happily contacting but the Coast Guard for rescue?
The Coast Guard does much more than just save lives; they also serve as a first line of defense against cartels and smugglers who seek to flood the United States with illegal drugs. Last year, for instance, was a banner year for Coast Guard drug enforcement. They prevented over 200 metric tons of cocaine, valued at over $6 billion, from entering the United States. In Florida, the Coast Guard cutter Mohawk, which is homeported in Key West, confiscated over 7 tons of cocaine in August. A month later, the Coast Guard cutter Tahoma offloaded 6 tons of cocaine in Port Everglades. And just last month, the Miami-based Coast Guard cutter Bernard C. Webber confiscated over 3,500 pounds of cocaine and 50 pounds of marijuana.
The bottom line is that the Coast Guard is an adaptable, responsive military force that maintains a persistent and comforting presence along our rivers, in our ports, on our coastal waters, and on the high seas.
I have had the privilege of spending a great deal of time with the Coast Guard. I have been in their helicopters chasing down go-fasts, showing me in a simulated chase how they would shoot out the engines from the open door of a Coast Guard helicopter. I have also done that chase in high-speed, the Coast Guard getting off the cutters into the go-fast--go-fasts that can turn on a dime. At the end of the day, the Coast Guard is going to catch even the speediest boats, and if they can't catch them with the go-fast small boats, they will catch them from the air.
I have been with the Coast Guard up in Alaska, where the Navy has pretty well ceded protection of the seas off of Alaska and up into the Arctic to the Coast Guard. We have a substantial fishing fleet up there. Of course, who do they rely on when they get into trouble? That is why we have a substantial Coast Guard presence in Alaska.
The bottom line is that the Coast Guard is an incredible force. They are especially present in the State of Florida since we have so much coastline. Nearly 40 percent of all Coast Guard personnel are in and around the State of Florida.
Down in Key West is the joint task force center--maintained by all agencies of the Federal Government--which is tracking the movements of the drug smugglers. If we had more assets in the Caribbean and the Pacific, we would be able to pick up a lot more of the drugs trying to enter and poison our children in the United States. We should do everything we can to support the Coast Guard's work. That is why we are here today.
The bipartisan bill before us will reauthorize the Coast Guard for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. It authorizes a $2 billion funding increase for the Coast Guard through fiscal year 2019. This includes new money to help the Coast Guard continue modernizing its aging fleet of cutters and aircraft. A good part of the Coast Guard's modernization of their fleet--the new offshore patrol cutters are being built by a shipbuilder in Florida.
This legislation will also better enable the Coast Guard to execute their missions, provide adequate resources and training to meet operational demands, and support servicemembers and their dependents. You should see these Coast Guard bases around the country, even on the Great Lakes. Just think--there are mariners on the Great Lakes. There is a great deal of commercial shipping on the Great Lakes. As a result, we have a substantial Coast Guard presence and Coast Guard bases on the Great Lakes.
This is a good bill, and we can be proud of it. Passing it will ensure that the Coast Guard has the tools they need to continue to carry out their many important missions, including the lifesaving and disaster response roles on which so many Americans have come to rely. When they call, they know they can depend on the Coast Guard.
I urge our colleagues to support this motion for cloture and then tomorrow to support the final passage of the bill.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT