Washington Waves
Washington Waves

House Panel Explores Supply Chain Disruptions

Washington, D.C.—Members of a key House panel took turns pressing maritime commissioners on shipping container shortages and other disruptions to the nation’s maritime supply chain.

“Carriers have often chosen to ship empty containers back to Asia rather than U.S. exports since it is more profitable to do so,” said Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the full committee, also focused on higher profits shippers can achieve by carrying high-value goods from overseas rather than lower-value domestic goods.

Still, DeFazio did not give Congress a pass, pointing to its failure to provide crucial pandemic relief to U.S. ports, which he praised for doubling their productivity.

“We did many, many rescue packages, but we never helped the ports in any significant way,” he said.

“We passed the Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Authority, but it failed to get funded.”

In his statement to the panel, Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) Chairman Daniel Maffei said the “crisis” affects the entire supply chain, not just ocean shipping.

“Attention has been focused on ports because this is where we see dramatic pictures of lines of ships and piles of containers,” Maffei said, adding outdated infrastructure and labor shortages contribute to the problem.

FMC Commissioner Rebecca Dye updated lawmakers on her ongoing Fact Finding 29 investigation into the pandemic’s impact on ocean freight delivery systems.

She said the U.S. system is unprepared to deal with growing volumes of cargo flowing through its major ports.

“If we don’t change, we can’t grow,” she said, adding it is time to move forward with a 2017 recommendation for a National Port Information System, harmonize the supply chain and boost American competitiveness.

RAISE Funding

Port infrastructure projects would be among those eligible for additional grant funding under the $78 billion, five-year Surface Transportation Investment Act easily advanced by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

According to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the panel’s chairman, the bill for the first time authorizes $1.5 billion annually for the RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) program, which the senator said doubles what has been provided previously for that high-demand program.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the panel’s ranking member and the bill’s co-sponsor, promoted its new program to fund big-dollar-value projects of national significance at $2 billion annually.

Now that the bill is out of committee, it will head to the Senate floor along with a much larger transportation measure from a separate committee.

Over on the House side, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee advanced its version of a surface transportation bill that would authorize $547 billion over five years.

Infrastructure Strategy

While mulling over a bipartisan infrastructure proposal, top Senate leaders of both parties predicted major parts of President Joe Biden’s massive infrastructure and jobs plan will have to wait for a budget reconciliation resolution that needs only Democratic votes to pass.

“I think there are many people, maybe everybody, in our caucus who believes it is a good start, but it doesn’t do enough,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said of the bipartisan plan that reportedly could total up to $1.2 trillion over eight years.

“That’s why we need a reconciliation package, a budget resolution that goes beyond what is in the bill.”

Repeating a plan he explained days earlier, Schumer said the bipartisan package and the budget reconciliation resolution continue to move on parallel tracks for now.

He conceded, however, both will need to be part of the ongoing discussions.

“I think there are large numbers of people in our caucus, and I sympathize with this, who will not vote for a bipartisan bill unless they are quite certain what’s going to be in reconciliation,” Schumer said.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has taken a wait-and-see approach to the bipartisan package.

“So, put me down as listening and hopeful that somehow, some way we will be able to move forward with an infrastructure bill,” McConnell said.

He said that bipartisan package must not revise the 2017 tax law that Republicans credit for the good economy pre-pandemic but include a credible way to pay for it.

McConnell said he also anticipates a reconciliation resolution from Democrats for the much larger Biden plan.

Shipyard Importance

The nation’s private shipyards support $42.4 billion in gross domestic product (GDP), according to a new report released by the Maritime Administration.

Entitled “The Economic Importance of the U.S. Private Shipbuilding and Repairing Industry,” the report covers the industry at national and state levels for calendar year 2019.

It states the nation’s 154 private shipyards in 2019 directly provided more than 107,000 jobs and contributed $9.9 billion in labor income to the national economy.

On a nationwide basis, including direct, indirect and induced impacts, the industry supported 393,390 jobs, $28.1 billion of labor income and $42.4 billion in GDP, the report stated.

It also stated the U.S. shipbuilding industry has run a trade surplus in six out of the last 10 years, with a cumulative trade surplus of $7.3 billion over this period.

From 2015 to 2020, U.S. shipbuilders delivered 5,024 vessels, including tugs and towboats, passenger vessels, commercial and fishing vessels and oceangoing and inland barges, reaching 608 vessels in 2020, the report stated.

Aquatic Nuisance Species

The Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force is scheduled to hold teleconference/web meetings June 28–30.

Registration is required for the meetings, which begin at noon each day, and the deadline to register is June 25. An earlier deadline of June 21 was set for accessibility accommodation requests.

To register or to receive the web address and telephone number for participation, contact Susan Pasko at 703-358-2466 or call 800-877-8339 to use a telecommunications device for the deaf.