Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Biden, Congressional Republicans Spar Over Size Of Infrastructure Tab

Washington, D.C.—President Joe Biden continues to meet with members of Congress as he promotes his $2 trillion-plus infrastructure and jobs proposal, but Republicans sound committed to a much more modest approach limited to traditional infrastructure and paid for without repealing tax cuts they view as a signature issue.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said members of his party continue to work on a traditional infrastructure proposal that would cover roads, bridges, ports and broadband and a “more credible way to pay for it.”

“This proposal is a Trojan horse to roll back the historic 2017 tax reform plan that helped spur big-time wage growth and the best job market in a generation before COVID-19,” McConnell said of Biden’s proposal.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said Republicans were talking to the Biden administration about user fees as a substantial source of funding to pay for an infrastructure bill.

“People think that is fair because it is fair,” Blunt said, adding that approach must be designed to ensure those who no longer pay at the pump also pay their fair share.

A Republican proposal is expected to total less than half of what the president has suggested.

Biden says he remains open to ideas from others, but he also has pledged not to raise taxes on Americans making less than $400,000 a year.

“He is not going to budge on that pledge. So that is a line in the sand for him,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said when asked about user fees as a source of revenue. 

Discretionary Budget

Even without momentum, the American Jobs Plan (AJP) is grabbing a good deal of the attention as the president’s discretionary budget—also known as the skinny budget—is getting its initial hearings before congressional appropriators.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg already has appeared before the House and Senate appropriation committees to discuss his agency’s fiscal year 2022 budget as well as the AJP.

Representing about a third of the Transportation Department’s budget, the discretionary budget includes funding for the BUILD grant program, which has been renamed Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) to reflect the Biden administration priorities.

Funding for Port Infrastructure Development and the purchase of a fifth and final state maritime academy training vessel within the Maritime Administration also is included Administration officials said the rest of the fiscal year 2022 budget is expected to be released later in the spring.

MTS Emergency Relief

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), declared his commitment to funding a newly created Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Authority (MTSERA).

“As chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, I led the charge to establish a comprehensive maritime transportation system emergency relief authority (MTSERA) last Congress,” DeFazio said.

“I am committed to seeing that it receives much-needed funding to support the men and women working in the maritime sector.”

Like other sectors, the U.S. maritime industry has been impacted greatly by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he said, describing the industry as vital to both the nation’s economy and its national security.

DeFazio’s statement was in response to a letter signed by more than 30 members and supporters of the maritime industry requesting $3.5 billion for MTSERA for pandemic relief.

“Note that this is the first and, to date, only relief program available to the maritime industry,” the letter stated.

“If appropriated, the conservative request for $3.5 billion is expected to be oversubscribed.”

Woman Nominated As Vice Commandant

President Joe Biden nominated Vice Adm. Linda Fagan to become the first woman to serve as vice commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Fagan currently serves as the commander of the Coast Guard Pacific Area, overseeing missions from the Rocky Mountains to the waters off the East coast of Africa, and commander of Defense Force West.

Her nomination drew immediate praise from those in her chain of command.

“She is a superb leader who, as the 32nd vice commandant, will guide the Coast Guard at a time when its mission of securing our maritime borders, ports and waterways has never been more important,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.

Noting that Fagan was the Coast Guard’s first female four-star admiral, Adm. Karl Schultz, Coast Guard commandant, described Fagan as a top performer and a trailblazer during her 36 years of service.

“Adm. Fagan will be instrumental in moving the service forward at a critical juncture in our history,” Schultz said.

A 1985 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy, Fagan is the Coast Guard’s first-ever Gold Ancient Trident, the officer with the longest service record in the marine safety field.

If confirmed by the Senate, she is to relieve current Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray on June 18.

Waterways Commerce Cutter

The Coast Guard announced its intent to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for the Waterways Commerce Cutter (WCC) Program’s acquisition and operation of up to 30 WCCs and requested public comments on the proposed action.

Comments and related material must be received by June 11 and may be submitted via www.regulations.gov.

In-person public meetings during the scoping period have not been planned due to the ongoing COVID–19 pandemic, but the Coast Guard expects to host virtual meetings May 11 and May 12.

Times and virtual meeting registration information will be announced in a separate notice published in the Federal Register.

For additional information, email HQS-SMB-CG-WaterwaysCommerceCutter@uscg.mil.

Decarbonized Maritime Industry

A key House panel has held a hearing on “practical steps” toward a carbon-free maritime industry.

“Congress needs to implement strong and progressive measures to reach the goal of a fully decarbonized maritime industry,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), chairman of the House panel’s Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, agreed.

“International shipping accounts for 3 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, and if it were a country, the sector would be the world’s sixth-largest emitter,” Carbajal said.

“Maritime carbon emissions must be eliminated if we are to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.”

 He cited the International Maritime Organization’s “ambitious goal” of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent before 2050 and cited positive steps already taken by ports, shipyards, vessel owners and local and state governments.

Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), the panel’s ranking member, said he wanted to look at the costs of nationwide recapitalization that decarbonization will require and who will bear them.

During the hearing, the panel received recommendations ranging from developing cleaner fuels to accelerating a path to marine vessel decarbonization and creating a green workforce.

Carrier Automated Tariffs

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) announced it is seeking public comments to determine if changes are needed to existing regulations on carrier automated tariffs, which are publicly available systems containing common carrier rates, charges, classifications, rules and practices.

Noting that tariff access fees vary widely, the FMC is asking for information on the reasonableness of charges for accessing tariffs.

Additionally, the FMC stated it is seeking comment on practices related to non-vessel-operating common carriers passing carrier charges through to shippers, commonly known as “pass-through” charges.

Comments must be submitted by June 7 to secretary@fmc.gov under the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking filed in the Federal Register.

For additional information, contact Rachel Dickon at 202-523-5725.