Gutting the Gulf’s first responders

Ken Blackwell Former Ohio Secretary of State
Font Size:

Most of us remember how strong Sen. John Kerry was on “first responders.” He did not want to fight terrorists abroad, but thought we should generously fund our police, firefighters, and EMTs to make sure that first responders had the tools they needed to counter any terrorist threat at home.

Many Americans concluded that if we just hunkered down, went on the defensive, and let terrorists plot in safe havens overseas, our first responders would be doing a lot more first responding. If we didn’t fight them over there, went the counter to Kerry, we’d be fighting them over here.

Now, Kerry’s liberal seat mate, Barack Obama, is in the White House. He has big liberal majorities in both chambers of Congress. Funding first responders should be no problem. Except, it appears, when those first responders are called to respond to a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Who are the first responders there? The U.S. Coast Guard, of course.

The Obama administration has slashed the Coast Guard’s budget. They plan to cut 1,100 uniformed positions and carve $100 million from the budget of our smallest military force.

The Coast Guard is already stretched too thin. In the Guard’s Eighth District, headquartered in New Orleans, there are 6,500 oil and gas wells. Of these, 4,000 are drilling platforms. Some 30,000 workers are working these rigs on any given day. That’s almost as many people as there are in the entire Coast Guard.

Why would anyone suggest this effective little military unit be cut? Remember Katrina? The faith-based church groups that mobilized thousands of volunteers to rush to the stricken Crescent City and the Coast Guard were the only groups, it seems, that escaped criticism. Yet, these are two of the only areas where the Obama budget is making cuts.

Perhaps we can see why the Coast Guard is being cut. Perhaps it’s because it’s a military unit.

This is the most anti-military administration in our history. The President seems to have little interest in the military—except as a prime field for his social engineering. It might have been better to fund the Coast Guard more generously for ocean engineering.

There’s another possible reason why the Coast Guard is on Obama’s chopping block. Because it’s a military unit, Coast Guard personnel are not unionized. You may recall that John Kerry’s enthusiastic support for police and firefighters had nothing to do at all with the fact that many of their unions had endorsed his candidacy.

Some liberal opponents of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security went down to defeat in 2002 because they refused to back down on their drive to unionize all the employees of the giant new federal agency.

This crisis in the Gulf of Mexico may raise serious concerns about whether the same agency–Homeland Security—should be responsible for securing our borders, preventing terrorist attacks on the homeland, natural disasters like Katrina, and man-made environmental disasters like the BP oil spill.

We all saw the failures of DHS during Katrina. Our borders north and south are porous. Two failed terrorist attacks—that of the smoking “underwear bomber” on the flight into Detroit and the sputtering car bomb in Times Square—owe more to alert American citizens than to DHS action. Now, we see that Janet Napolitano’s DHS is starving the Coast Guard at the very time we need it most.

The joke used to be: Is this any way to run an airline? Today, the sad joke is: Is this any way to run an administration?

Ken Blackwell is the co-author of the No. 1 bestselling book “The Blueprint: Obama’s plan to subvert the Constitution and build an imperial presidency.” He is Senior Fellow for Family Empowerment at the Family Research Council. He serves on the board of directors of the Club for Growth, the National Rifle Association, and the National Taxpayers Union. Mr. Blackwell is a contributing editor for the conservative news and opinion site Townhall.com, and his columns frequently appear in the Washington Times, New York Post, Wall Street Journal and National Review Online. He was a columnist for the former New York Sun. He is a visiting professor at the Liberty University School of Law.