Harvey Racial Optics

FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005 picture, a New Orleans resident is rescued from the rooftop of a home by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew as floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina cover the streets. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Mention the U.S. Coast Guard in Louisiana, and many of us instantly remember Hurricane Katrina, when Coast Guard choppers dropped rescue lines to one rooftop after another, saving thousands of New Orleans area residents from oblivion.

Nearly a decade and a half later, that heroic legacy isn’t enough, apparently, for members of the Coast Guard to get a basic level of respect from the bickering politicians in Washington. Thanks to a partial government shutdown that’s now nearly a month old, Coast Guard personnel aren’t getting paid, though they’re still obligated to report for service.

It’s a disgraceful reality that the president and members of Congress are apparently willing to live with, even as they routinely profess their love of country. If this is what American patriotism looks like in 2019, then this republic is in the kind of trouble not even the valorous Coast Guard can spare us from.

"To the best of my knowledge, this marks the first time in our nation’s history that service members in a U.S. Armed Force have not been paid during a lapse in government appropriations," Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz noted.

Because the Coast Guard is under the Department of Homeland Security rather than the Pentagon, it’s not being funded during the shutdown, which was prompted by a dispute between President Donald Trump and Congress over billions of dollars in funding for a border wall with Mexico that candidate Trump repeatedly said Mexico would pay for. Security is important, of course, but key parts of the border already have a wall, and illegal border crossings have been trending downward for years.

The larger threat to national security is an unfunded government, with key personnel such as air traffic controllers, airport security staff and members of the Coast Guard going without a paycheck. In the days following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s inability to pay its military officers told the world that a once-mighty superpower was really a paper tiger. Is this the same kind of message the United States wants to send to our friends and enemies about its own resolve to defend its interests?

Of the estimated 60,000 people who had to be rescued from rooftops and flooded homes after Katrina, Coast Guard personnel saved more than 33,500, risking their lives in the process.

One would think that the memory of that heroism would create a special sense of urgency among members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation to end the shutdown. Instead, Louisiana’s two U.S. senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, along with U.S. Reps. Steve Scalise, Garret Graves and Ralph Abraham, were all smiles this week as they visited with the president in New Orleans, then flew back with him on Air Force One.

As their bank balances dwindle, members of the Coast Guard in Louisiana and across the country are continuing to do their duty. It’s time for Louisiana’s members of Congress to do theirs.