Coast Guard authorization bill sails through House panel

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Wednesday approved a $9.6 billion fiscal 2007 authorization bill for the Coast Guard that includes a goal to speed the modernizing of the service's ships and planes.

The bill was dispatched by voice vote to the House for action.

The measure included an amendment by Transportation and Infrastructure Coast Guard Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., also approved separately by a voice vote, which increased the cost of the original $8.4 billion bill by another $1.2 billion.

With LoBiondo's amendment, the total amount included for the integrated Deepwater System, the Coast Guard's acquisition plan to modernize its fleet, would be $1.7 billion, according to committee aides.

LoBiondo said the Deepwater authorization, if Congress goes along with appropriations to match the authorization, would enable the Coast Guard to be on a path to modernization in 15 years, instead of a previously estimated 25 years.

The bill, with the extra funds added by LoBiondo, would boost the measure by about $1.6 billion over the amount requested by President Bush for fiscal 2007.

The bill would authorize 45,500 active duty personnel for fiscal 2007 -- the same as this year.

The LoBiondo amendment also asked the Coast Guard to enter into an agreement with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to improve security in waters located near nuclear power plants.

An amendment by Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., to end a special operating exemption for an oil rig service company in the Gulf of Mexico was approved by voice vote.

It would end an exemption next year, which is enjoyed by Nabors Industries to operate its ships in U.S. waters even though it moved its headquarters to the Bahamas to cut its taxes.

Taylor called the tax avoidance move "an artful dodge."

Generally, under the long-standing Jones Act, only U.S. ships may operate between two U.S. ports. Taylor said moving to the Bahamas meant the firm's U.S. taxes in 2005 went from about $90 million to $6 million. That gives it an unfair advantage over U.S. tax-paying firms, Taylor said.

But Taylor lost on another move by voice vote to take away a special operating exemption for a Jacksonville, Fla.-berthed ship, The Gallant Lady, after Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, argued that the yacht was used only for charitable purposes and read from a long list of charities that used the vessel.

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