Washington Waves
Washington Waves

What Will Next Coronavirus Relief Bill Look Like?

An old-fashioned Washington stalemate or just the opening bid for more talks?

First came House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her fellow top Democrats with their latest coronavirus-relief package that rang in at roughly $3 trillion and provided funding for areas ranging from state and local governments to help pay frontline pandemic workers to another round of direct payments to Americans.

Then President Donald Trump joined Republicans in Congress taking turns dismissing the proposal as nothing more than election-year talking points.

“Dead on arrival,” Trump told reporters.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who takes well-earned pride in his ability to stay on message, acknowledged discussions with the administration continue on possible future action while the effectiveness of the relief bills Congress already has passed is measured.

Talks with Democrats could come later, McConnell added.

The White House, however, was not as guarded, and earlier in the week appeared to back off on President Trump’s insistence that a payroll tax cut must be part of any new bill.

“The president has noted a payroll tax cut is something that he’s looked at, not conditioning it on that, but noting that’s something he desires to see,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters.

Responding to a reporter’s question at another briefing, Trump said talks were being held about a second round of direct payments to Americans, which House Democrats included in their package.

“We are talking about that. We’re negotiating with the Democrats,” he said.

“We’ll see what happens.”

Jones Act Support

Seven Republican senators sent a letter to President Trump urging him to oppose any proposal that would weaken the Jones Act, citing efforts to use the ongoing COVID-19 crisis to undermine the 100-year-old law.

“There is absolutely no connection between the Jones Act and COVID-19,” the letter stated, warning that undermining the law would cost American jobs and damage the domestic maritime industry.

“If anything, the administration and Congress should look for ways to strengthen the Jones Act.”

Dated April 27, the letter was signed by Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, both of Louisiana; Roger Wicker of Mississippi, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi; Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, both of Alaska; and Deb Fischer of Nebraska.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Talk of waivers of the Jones Act, which limits shipments between two American ports to U.S.-flagged, -built, -owned and -crewed vessels, dates back a number of weeks and was prompted by a dramatic price drop of crude oil.

Members of the oil and gas industry have raised the possibility of temporary waivers of the Jones Act to allow them to move their products more easily within the U.S.

Industry’s COVID-19 Response

Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hosted Maritime Administration chief Mark Buzby for a bipartisan virtual forum on the maritime industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to press statements after the videoconference from Democrats, Buzby’s remarks covered the steps the industry is taking to protect its workers on ships and at docks from infection and operational and logistical challenges the industry has encountered so far.

“It is imperative our members understand the situation so that we can help ensure that the industry’s response puts public health first, addresses potential operational challenges and ensures the safety of maritime transportation workers,” Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the panel’s ranking member, thanked  Buzby for the briefing but also used the opportunity to urge the House to return to Washington.

“There simply is no substitute for public hearings with members and witnesses in attendance to discuss, debate and conduct oversight,” Graves said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeatedly has defended the decision to delay bringing her chamber back into session by citing the advice of the Capitol physician and the situation in Washington, D.C.

Duplicate MMC Requirements

The Office of Merchant Mariner Credentialing has published a policy letter (CG-MMC Policy Letter 01-20) providing guidance on affidavits required with an application for a duplicate merchant mariner credential (MMC) and mariner medical certificate.

Mariners seeking a duplicate for a lost MMC or medical certificate must submit an affidavit describing the circumstances of the loss.

Once an affidavit is submitted as part of an application, the letter explained, it is evidence that the applicant is affirming the information provided is “true and correct.”

This policy is available on the Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Credentialing policy website. It may also be accessed by selecting “Policy & Regulations” on the National Maritime Center’s website.

For additional information, contact the Mariner Credentialing Program Policy Division at 202- 372-2357 or MMCPolicy@uscg.mil.

National Maritime Day

To mark National Maritime Day this year, vessels in harbors and at berth are being encouraged to sound their horns or whistles four times at noon daily May 18–22 as they move COVID-19 necessities and other goods around the globe.

American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) President and CEO Chris Connor suggested people should hear those horns and whistles and think of the role ports play in their lives.

“Then use the hashtags #National Maritime Day, #SoundOff and #SeaportsDeliver to post your thoughts about ports on social media,” Connor said.

AAPA explained this year’s theme, Sound Off for National Maritime Day, focuses on the ongoing global pandemic response and recovery effort and the port industry workforce’s collective effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus and ensure a steady flow of vital goods and services.

Port Loan

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced a $500 million loan to the Port of Long Beach, Calif.

Provided by her agency’s Build America Bureau, Chao said the investment will reduce traffic congestion and enhance the port’s ability to handle larger container ships.

The loan will help finance construction of the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project, which is located at the port at the southern end of State Route 710 in Los Angeles County.

According to the announcement, the loan will replace a $325 million TIFIA loan that closed in 2014 but remains undrawn with the increase to assist with additional costs arising from the implementation of more robust design and lifecycle features.

 CG Judge Advocate General

The Coast Guard named its first female judge advocate general and chief counsel, and she has experience with maritime law.

Rear Adm. Melissa Bert has served as the Coast Guard’s chief of the Maritime and International Law Office, supporting U.S. engagement with the International Maritime Organization and providing legal advice on a variety of policies, including the Law of the Sea and Arctic policy.

She also served as commander of Coast Guard Sector Juneau and captain of the port for southeastern Alaska.

A graduate of the Coast Guard Academy and The George Washington University Law School, Bert was a national security fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and a military fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.