Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Biden Announces $2 Trillion-Plus Infrastructure Plan

Washington, D.C.—President Joe Biden called on Congress to invest an additional $17 billion in inland waterways, coastal ports, land ports of entry and ferries as part of a “big” and “bold” $2 trillion-plus, eight-year infrastructure and jobs package.

“This includes a Healthy Ports program to mitigate the cumulative impacts of air pollution on neighborhoods near ports, often communities of color,” stated a fact sheet released by the White House in advance of the president’s much-anticipated announcement in Pittsburgh, Pa.

“These investments will position the United States as a global leader in clean freight and aviation.”

In his speech, the president singled out bottlenecks at ports as a problem his package would address. 

“Our ports and waterways need repair and reimagination,” the fact sheet stated.

To pay for his historic plan, Biden proposed increasing the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, beefing up the Global Minimum Tax on multinational corporations and raising the rate to 21 percent, denying deductions for offshoring jobs, crediting expenses for onshoring them and ramping up IRS enforcement on corporations.

He welcomed ideas from others but drew the line on protecting taxpayers earning less than $400,000 per year from higher taxes.

Reactions from top Senate leaders offered no surprises but again indicated just how tough the challenge will be for the proposal in that evenly divided chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) welcomed Biden’s announcement and did not back away from its “clean” energy and transportation features.

“Addressing infrastructure, climate and environmental justice together, and creating millions of good paying jobs, is just the right combination to meet head on the challenges that America now faces,” Schumer said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky..) described Biden’s proposal as a “liberal wish-list” and a “Trojan horse for the largest set of tax hikes in a generation.”

Days before the official roll out, McConnell warned that Republicans had no enthusiasm for hiking taxes.

The American Association of Port Authorities applauded the president’s American Jobs Plan, calling its $17 billion in investments in ports, waterways and gateway infrastructure a substantial down payment on the $29 billion needed to modernize ports and ensure U.S. trade infrastructure remains strong.

“America’s ports connect the nation’s small businesses, farmers and manufacturers to the global marketplace,” the association said.

“A worldwide maritime trading nation, the U.S. owes $5.4 trillion in economic value (25.7 percent of U.S. GDP) and 31 million jobs to the activity at seaports.”

Waterway Modernization

Days before President Biden rolled out his proposal, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told a key House committee  that modernization of waterway infrastructures does not get as much attention but is incredibly important to the country’s economic competitiveness.

“There is no question that this needs to be part of the overall vision,” Buttigieg told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during a hearing on the Biden administration’s priorities.

“In my simplistic understanding of surface transportation, water is certainly a surface, and we need to be thinking about it.”

During the marathon, five-hour hearing, Buttigieg also confirmed the administration’s support for U.S. ports and their workers, the Jones Act and the maritime and shipbuilding industries.

He received pushback on his agency’s recent announcement that climate change, environmental justice and racial equity would be among the criteria for the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program.

“Those are not in the statute,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) said, suggesting the change was an attempt to hijack the statutory requirements.

Buttigieg expressed assurances the agency’s effort remained consistent with the program’s goals while adding more specificity to the process.

Port Grants

The Maritime Administration (MarAd) announced $230 million in grant funding for port and intermodal infrastructure-related projects to bolster development of offshore wind energy program.

Promoted by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg at a White House event, the funding will be through the Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP).

According to the administration, 12 percent of PIDP grant applicants in the last two years included the anticipated development of wind energy facilities and the movement of wind energy components as part of their project proposals.

“Our nation’s ports are a key part of our critical infrastructure,” Buttigieg said. “They create jobs and make our economy more resilient and sustainable.”“This funding will build upon local investments in infrastructure to deliver long-term economic benefits to American workers and communities, while also addressing climate and equity.”

In keeping with the priorities of the Biden-Harris administration, the review process also will consider how proposed projects address climate change and environmental justice impacts and advance racial equity, reduce barriers to opportunity and meet challenges faced by rural areas.

Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021, $205 million of the funding will be reserved for grants to coastal seaports and Great Lakes ports.

Webinars are expected to be held during the application process with details available at www.transportation.gov/portgrants.

The deadline for applications is July 30.

New FMC Chairman

President Joe Biden designated Commissioner Daniel Maffei as the new chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC).

 “I am grateful and humbled by the confidence President Biden has placed in me by appointing me chairman at such a critical time for our nation’s supply chain,” Maffei said.

“Due to the effects of COVID-19 and an unprecedented import boom, we are dealing with serious challenges to America’s international ocean transportation system: challenges that the FMC has a vital role in addressing, both on its own as an independent agency and in cooperation with other agencies.”

He succeeds Michael Khouri, who was designated by then-President Donald Trump as chairman in 2019 after two years as acting chairman.

Maffei thanked his predecessor for his service to the FMC and the country.

“He and I sometimes have policy differences but, as chairman, he was inclusive of all the commissioners in making important decisions and worked collaboratively with stakeholders in the ocean transportation system to reach consensus solutions,” he said.

“I will seek his advice as a fellow commissioner and friend.”

A former two-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York, Maffei also served in the Department of Commerce during the Obama administration.

Medical Advisory Committee

The National Merchant Mariner Medical Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. April 19 via teleconference to discuss matters relating to medical certification determinations for issuance of licenses, certificates of registry and merchant mariners’ documents, medical standards and guidelines for the physical qualifications of operators of commercial vessels, medical examiner education and medical research.

Pre-meeting comments and supporting documentation must be submitted by April 12.

Teleconference lines will be limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

For additional information and instructions on joining the teleconference and to register as a speaker, contact David Belliveau at 202-372-1208.