WASHINGTON — White House plans to slash the Coast Guard budget by $1.3 billion sparked a protest letter from a bipartisan group of 58 House lawmakers to lead House appropriators on Monday — part of a growing chorus in Congress against the cut.

The lawmakers, led by Coast Guard and Maritime subcommittee chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., sent a letter to leaders of the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee to argue the Coast Guard must be included in President Trump's plans to rebuild the military. The letter targets a proposal floated by the White House Office of Management an Budget.

"It's nonsensical to pursue a policy of rebuilding the Armed Forces while proposing large reductions to the U.S. Coast Guard budget," the letter reads. "Without question, OMB's proposed cut targeting the Coast Guard directly contradicts the President's stated goals and should be dismissed."

The signatories argue that as the administration strengthens the southern border, illegal drugs and immigration will likely flow offshore, and that the Coast Guard should see a sizable budget increase to stem their flow.

"Our recommendation is that OMB's financial outline, specific to the Coast Guard, be rejected on the grounds that, if implemented, it would serve to the detriment of U.S. national security and create exposures that will most certainly be exploited by transnational criminal networks and other dangerous actors," the letter reads.

There have been other letters on the topic — Hunter wrote the president and Trump's budget chief Mick Mulvaney last week calling for the Coast Guard cut to be reconsidered. Alaska Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski and Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker were the only three Republicans among 23 senators to sign another  letter. 

On Thursday, President Trump is expected to submit to Congress a 2018 budget, which will increase defense discretionary spending by $54 billion at the expense of non-defense discretionary spending. Part of that plan is to cut the Coast Guard to pay for a controversial wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The Coast Guard, which is outside the Pentagon budget, operates with a $9.1 billion annual budget. The draft White House plan would cancel funding for a ninth National Security Cutter, which the Coast Guard did not request, and eliminate its top counterterrorism unit, the Maritime Security Response Team, and all of its regional Maritime Safety and Security Teams.

Monday's letter and others signal that lawmakers will fight to stave off the Coast Guard cut as both House and Senate budget committees are also expected to write their own proposals. One congressional source said the White House is expected to dial back the Coast Guard cut before Thursday's budget announcement.

The chorus of lawmakers railing against the Coast Guard cut includes Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who said Sunday that a combined  $2 billion cut for the Transportation Security Administration and Coast Guard would "spell real trouble for security" for his state.

On Monday, Schumer and other lead Senate Democrats sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., to say the border wall should be excluded from must-pass funding legislation.

Twitter: @ReporterJoe

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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