Murkowski Votes ‘Nay’ on Icebreaker Provision in Defense Bill

Drift ice camp in the middle of the Arctic Ocean as seen from the deck of icebreaker XueLong, July 2010. Photo: Timo Palo via Wikimedia Commons.
Drift ice camp in the middle of the Arctic Ocean as seen from the deck of icebreaker XueLong, July 2010. Photo: Timo Palo via Wikimedia Commons.

In Congress Thursday morning, a U.S. senator proposed adding nearly a billion dollars to a Defense spending bill to acquire an icebreaker – and that senator was not from Alaska. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is normally an ardent advocate for more icebreaking capacity, but she felt compelled to vote against the icebreaker amendment.

Download Audio:

In the Senate Appropriations Committee, it was Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, who talked up the need for an icebreaker.

“The amendment includes $940 million to accelerate a Coast Guard icebreaker. We all know the reality of climate change is having an impact on national security. And the Arctic is a contested region, with China and Russia asserting their interest there. The U.S. is falling behind in its Arctic capabilities.”

Durbin’s amendment also would have funded other high-priority ships and aircraft, by shifting money from a war fund to the regular budget of the Defense Department. Murkowski’s on a mission to convince the Senate — and all Americans — that Arctic infrastructure is a national imperative, and icebreakers are at the top of her list. She acknowledged feeling torn.

“I am in a very difficult spot. I will be voting against your amendment.”

In fact, all Republicans on the appropriations committee voted against Durbin’s amendment, and not necessarily because they oppose the priorities. The problem, Murkowski says, is the spending caps known as sequestration.

“What in effect Sen. Durbin’s amendment does is bust the caps.”

This is part of a larger fight in Congress over how to fund government for the next fiscal year. Republican leaders are trying to pass bills that stay under the sequestration caps. But a majority of the appropriations committee – including Murkowski – voted for a non-binding amendment calling the across-the-board cuts unreasonable.