Washington Waves
Washington Waves

McConnell Rejects Infrastructure Spending For Next Coronavirus Bill

Washington, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has rejected President Donald Trump’s proposal to include major infrastructure spending in the next coronavirus relief measure.

“It’s unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic, which is the reason we have run up the national debt $2.8 trillion,” McConnell told Neil Cavuto on Fox News.

“I just don’t think that’s the path to getting an infrastructure bill.”

Instead, he suggested the Senate would pass a more modest infrastructure bill in the near future.

Trump, who campaigned on a trillion-dollar infrastructure package in 2016, more recently has called for a big, bold infrastructure plan that could go as high as $2 trillion.

Asked to respond to McConnell’s take, the president conceded the Senate leader and other Republicans want to keep infrastructure separate from the next coronavirus relief measure but made it clear he will not stop promoting it as an issue.

“So, we’ll see how that works out,” Trump said.

McConnell’s apparent willingness to even discuss another coronavirus relief package represents a major shift from his earlier remarks that he wanted to hit the pause button on such bills because of the amount of debt they represent.

In response to top Democrats’ push to use the next bill to provide major financial relief to states and local governments suffering revenue losses because of the pandemic, McConnell originally said he would be in favor of allowing states to use bankruptcy instead of waiting for money from the federal government.

His current stance calls for the next relief bill to lead to liability protection for businesses willing to reopen.

Democrats insist the financial aid will not go to state and local governments but end up keeping their public employees on the job.

Work Hours

In addition to their legislative agendas,  McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also split on their schedules with the Senate heading back May 4 and the House delaying its return to the Capitol.

“We will modify routines in ways that are smart and safe, but we will honor our constitutional duty to the American people and conduct critical business in person,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

“If it is essential for doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, truck drivers, grocery-store workers and many other brave Americans to keep carefully manning their own duty stations, then it is essential for senators to carefully man ours and support them,” he said.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on MSNBC the decision to delay the House’s return was based on the advice of the Capitol physician, noting the coronavirus cases in Washington, D.C., continue to rise.

“We had no choice,” Pelosi said, explaining the decision was to protect the health of not only lawmakers but legislative staff, the press and the employees who maintain the buildings.

She also noted that members of her chamber currently number 430 compared to the Senate’s 100, a difference that could give the upper chamber more flexibility.

Pelosi said virtual hearings may be tried or actual hearings with a few House members.

Great Lakes Pilotage

The Coast Guard is establishing new base Great Lakes pilotage rates for the 2020 shipping season that will result in an estimated 1 percent net increase in pilotage costs to account for changes in district operating expenses, an increase in the number of pilots and anticipated inflation.

In accordance with the Great Lakes Pilotage Act of 1960, the final rule takes effect May 11.

In addition, the Coast Guard is clarifying the rules related to the working capital fund.

For additional information, contact Brian Rogers at 202-372-1535.

Detention And Demurrage

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) issued new guidance on assessing reasonableness of detention and demurrage regulations and practices of ocean carriers and marine terminal operators.

“Docket No. 19-05, Interpretive Rule on Demurrage and Detention under the Shipping Act” is to take effect upon publication in the Federal Register.

Under the final rule, the FMC says it will consider the extent to which detention and demurrage charges and policies serve their primary purpose of incentivizing cargo movement and promoting freight fluidity, and guidance will be provided on how it may apply that principle in the context of cargo availability and empty container return.

Two provisions not in the 2019 proposal were added to the final rule to clarify that the guidance is applicable in the context of government inspections and that the rule does not preclude the FMC from considering additional factors, arguments and evidence outside those listed.

A key U.S. senator expressed support for the FMC’s action.

“Detention and demurrage fees that do not promote efficiency impose unreasonable costs and significant burdens on the U.S. supply chain,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the FMC.

Arctic Strategy

Despite efforts to address gaps in Arctic maritime infrastructure, the U.S. still lacks a current strategy and interagency leadership to deal with changing conditions such as diminished sea ice and increased traffic in that region, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded.

A deep-draft port and comprehensive nautical charting were cited in the GAO report as examples of missing maritime infrastructure.

On the leadership front, the GAO singled out the Arctic Executive Steering Committee, an agency established two years after the White House developed a National Strategy for the Arctic Region in 2013.

GAO reported that committee is now dormant.

Without a current strategy and collaboration practices in place, GAO said agencies may miss opportunities to leverage resources and target infrastructure improvements.

GAO recommended the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and other appropriate entities develop a strategy to address gaps and designate an interagency mechanism responsible for leading federal efforts.

“OSTP neither agreed nor disagreed but noted it is considering the need for and role of additional federal coordination,” the GAO stated, adding it stands by its recommendations.

Contract Filing Requirements

The Federal Maritime Commission  voted to provide temporary relief on certain service contract filing requirements in response to COVID-19 impacts on the supply chain.

Published in the Federal Register on April 27, when it took effect, the relief allows parties to file service contracts up to 30 days after they take effect.

It is scheduled to last through December 31.

Benefits of service contract filing relief were identified by the Fact Finding 29 Supply Chain Innovation Teams working under the direction of Commissioner Rebecca Dye.

According to an FMC statement, a unifying theme in the initial meetings of the Supply Chain Innovation Teams was that service contract negotiations are being disrupted for a variety of causes related to COVID-19.

In particular, the statement added, many service contracts are expiring in the next 60 days, teleworking arrangements are complicating negotiations between carriers and shippers, and some businesses are technically challenged to file service contracts from locations other than their offices.

Providing flexibility on filing requirements permits industry to adapt to market conditions while still providing information necessary to assure competition and integrity for America’s ocean supply chain, the FMC stated.