Washington, D.C.—President Donald Trump signed into law a massive coronavirus relief package that includes key language welcomed by members of the waterways industry and their supporters.
After winning unanimous support in the Senate, H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act sailed through the House on a voice vote.
“In a win for ports, the CARES Act contains language to open the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to future dredging needs,” the National Waterways Conference stated.
“While the language does not allow Congress to retroactively spend the HMTF balance, it does encourage congressional appropriators to allocate all future HMTF revenues.”
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a leading advocate for using HMTF revenues for maintaining harbors, also applauded that language.
“Unlocking the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund has always been about two things—safety and jobs,” DeFazio said.
“For over 20 years, I’ve heard from countless fishermen, shippers, and vessel, tug and barge operators about the importance of safe and predictable access to our ports and harbors, which is critical to protecting our fishermen and maritime jobs and to keeping our local, regional and national economy moving.”
Noting the new law fails to address the nearly $10 billion sitting idle in the HMTF, he vowed to keep fighting until all the funds collected from shippers and others are used for port maintenance.
Other provisions of the law provide $50 million to support emergency operations centers and ensure continuous operations of Corps projects, $20 million to support the agency’s remote access and teleworking activities and $141 million for Coast Guard reserve deployments to support port security requirements.
President Trump and top congressional Democrats took turns promoting an idea of turning a potential Phase 4 coronavirus relief bill into a huge infrastructure measure.
Taking to Twitter, Trump called for a big, bold $2 trillion infrastructure package and cited what he called the zero interest rate in the U.S. as a reason to do it.
He tweeted the legislation should be “focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country! Phase 4.”
Infrastructure has become something of a punch line in Washington with it picking up no legislative traction year after year, but Trump’s new focus on it follows his decision to back off talk of reopening the country in weeks, possibly as early as Easter, and extend his social-distancing guidelines for another month to slow the spread of the virus and save more lives.
Even as he adopted a more somber tone in warning Americans of the challenges they will face in the coming weeks, the president continues to emphasize his desire to help get the economy moving again.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) joined other high-ranking Democrats on a press call and recalled they already had unveiled their five-year, $760 billion framework that went well beyond the traditional infrastructure features.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also weighed in, tweeting “I agree that we should fight for an infrastructure bill, but it has to be big, bold, pro-worker and green.”
Speaking to reporters, Trump made it clear Democrats’ Green New Deal approach was a non-starter.
“I won’t approve it,” he said.
Top congressional Republicans did not even need that reason for keeping their distance from a potential Phase 4 bill.
“We may need a Phase 4, but we’re not even fully into Phase 3 yet,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Fox News Radio’s “The Guy Benson Show.”
McConnell also described as massive and complicated the Treasury Department’s problem of getting all of the money already approved by Congress out rapidly.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the administration’s lead negotiator, sounded unconcerned.
Appearing on CNBC, Mnuchin cited the president’s interest in infrastructure and said those discussions with lawmakers have been going on for months and will continue.
“We suspect there will be more bills, and we think it is a great time now to invest in infrastructure,” Mnuchin said.
Both houses are scheduled to be away until at least April 20.
Cargo Delivery Challenges
The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) authorized Commissioner Rebecca Dye to identify solutions to cargo delivery system challenges related to the coronavirus.
“Recent global events have only highlighted the economic urgency of responsive port and terminal operations to the effectiveness of the United States international freight delivery system” the FMC’s order noted.
In addition to authorizing Dye as the investigative office for “Fact Finding No. 29 International Ocean Transportation Supply Chain Engagement,” the order allows her to form one or more Supply Chain Innovation Teams to support that effort.
“The United States depends on reliable international ocean freight delivery to support the economic security of our country,” Dye said.
“The maritime supply chain extends upstream and downstream from the ports and closely located logistics centers to American exporters and importers, and keeping the system functioning is a priority of national importance.”
Individuals may provide information to Dye by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.