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November 15, 2021 1:15 PM, EST

ATA's Spear Testifies on Supply Chain Bottlenecks

Capitol Agenda by Eugene Mulero

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Ongoing supply chain bottlenecks, primarily at the nation’s commercial ports, are partly the result of President Joe Biden’s policies. That’s a central theme from senior Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“You would think that this crisis would be top of mind for President Biden and his allies in Congress, but you would be wrong,” Republican Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Sam Graves of Missouri argued on Fox Business on Nov. 16. “Instead of taking action to rein in spending and shore up the supply chain, they are working to ram trillions of dollars in new spending and taxes through Congress that will do nothing to address supply chain problems while adding more inflationary fuel to the fire.”

Their viewpoint was published ahead of a House transportation committee hearing about supply chains. The panel met Nov. 17 to learn further the freight industry’s perspective regarding such bottlenecks. (Watch a replay of the hearing here)

Chris Spear

Spear

Witnesses who shared insight at the hearing include Chris Spear, president of American Trucking Associations; Ian Jefferies, CEO of the Association of American Railroads; and Anne Reinke, CEO of the Transportation Intermediaries Association.

“President Biden has been trying to shift blame to anyone but himself for his failing policies that will make these problems worse. But as winter and the holiday season approach, the American people will certainly notice who is at fault,” the Republican leaders continued. “The White House recently admitted ‘there will be things people can’t get’ this Christmas thanks to the growing supply chain crisis. Now 64% of retail executives say they’re concerned about receiving inventory in time for the holidays.”

Notably, the White House launched a task force with the aim to respond to supply chain concerns in real time. Biden and his team also point to the recent enactment of a $1 trillion-plus infrastructure funding bill as potentially enhancing freight connectivity in the near term.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “The reason why the infrastructure bill is such an important component of our competition is because we are at the point now where we are about 13th in the world in terms of our infrastructure around the country. And we’re seeing even as it relates to supply chain issues, that we need to do a lot more to ensure that goods and services can move across our country. China has done more to invest.”

House Democratic leaders say they intend to vote on a nearly $2 trillion social infrastructure budget bill as early as this week.

All Aboard: 'Amtrak Joe' Signs $1T Infrastructure Bill

President Joe Biden, a former U.S. Senator nicknamed “Amtrak Joe,” signed a $1 trillion-plus infrastructure policy bill into law Nov. 15 at the White House.

The measure’s enactment is described by several transportation experts as one of the largest and most comprehensive federal infrastructure bills in the country’s history. The bill includes a five-year update of federal surface transportation provisions, as well as multibillion-dollar funding distributions for upgrades to roads, bridges, tunnels, freight and passenger rail, transit and waterways. Its aim is to modernize America’s connectivity grid by way of responding to climate change, according to proponents.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the measure’s formal name, is one half of Biden’s Build Back Better domestic agenda. The other half, the social infrastructure budget Build Back Better Act, is likely to be called up for a vote in the U.S. House as early as this week.

Joe Biden signs infrastructure bill

President Joe Biden signs the infrastructure bill as a gathering that included Vice President Kamala Harris (second from left) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) look on. (CSPAN.org)

“The House of Representatives passed my bipartisan infrastructure bill. Along with another plan that I’m advancing, this bill is going to reduce the cost of goods to consumers and businesses, and get people back to work, helping us build an economy from the bottom up and the middle out that, where everybody is better off,” the president said last week from the Port of Baltimore. He emphasized, “And so, look, this is a once-in-a-generation investment to create good-paying jobs, modernize our infrastructure, turn the climate crisis into an opportunity.”

After the signing ceremony at the White House, POTUS and his team, specifically his “jobs cabinet,” are said to promote all things Build Back Better. The messaging campaign will take place at a time when prices at the gas pump are rising and supply chain bottlenecks continue.

A Monmouth University poll determined support for the infrastructure package stands at 65%. This, as 42% approve and 50% disapprove of POTUS’ job performance. Congressional Democrats’ intraparty disputes partly help explain the numbers.

Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said, “The Democratic party may have a big tent, but right now it’s hosting a wedding between the Hatfields and McCoys. Each side insists on staying on their own turf and blames the other one for not taking to the dance floor. This seems to be as true at the grassroots level as it is in the U.S. Capitol.

“The irony is that progressives and moderates pretty much agree on the policy objectives in the president’s plan. They just don’t know how to talk to each other in order to get the win.”

The Democratic party may have a big tent, but right now it’s hosting a wedding between the Hatfields and McCoys.

Patrick Murray, director of the Independent Monmouth University Polling Institute

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, some of whom backed the infrastructure package, say they intend to stand firm in opposition to the nearly $2 trillion social infrastructure budget plan. If the bill reaches the U.S. Senate, its consideration would occur via a fast-track reconciliation process.

“The American people have given this president failing grades across the board on his first-quarter report card, failing because of high costs and prices, failing because of an overrun border, failing because of the tragedy and the failure in Afghanistan,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told ABC’s “This Week” Nov. 14. “So, only one in five Americans think the country is heading in the right direction. And no matter what bill the president happens to sign tomorrow, that’s not going to change the failing grades.”

Expect to hear more in the next few weeks from Barrasso’s colleagues in the Senate.

The Week Ahead (all times Eastern)

Nov. 15, 2 p.m.: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosts a discussion titled, “The Role of Employers: Promoting COVID-19 Vaccines and Implementing Mandates.”

Nov. 15, 3 p.m.: President Biden holds a signing ceremony for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Nov. 16, 10 a.m.: Politico hosts a virtual event on climate change.

Nov. 16, 10 a.m.: The House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee meets for a hearing on Coast Guard infrastructure.

Nov. 16, 10:30 a.m.: The House Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee meets for a hearing titled, “Securing America’s Future: Supply Chain Solutions for a Clean Energy Economy.”

Nov. 17, 10 a.m.: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meets to consider the nomination of Martha Williams to be director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Nov. 17, 10 a.m.: The Senate Commerce Committee meets to consider the nomination of Christopher Coes to be assistant Secretary for Transportation for policy.

Nov. 17, 10:30 a.m.: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meets for a hearing with freight stakeholders about the supply chain.

Freight Corridor

It’s all about the supply chain.

Legislative Docket

The big-picture infrastructure plan would dedicate about $100 billion for highways and bridges, $66 billion for freight and passenger rail operations, $65 billion for rural broadband internet access, $46 billion for severe weather-resilience climate change programs, $39 billion for transit systems and $25 billion for modernization projects at airports. Specific to trucking, it would create a training and apprenticeship program for drivers younger than 21 to drive Class 8 trucks in interstate commerce. The provision, known as the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy (DRIVE) Safe Act, was sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Buzz

Bringing the band back together? The White House announced it named Mitch Landrieu as senior adviser for coordinating the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s follow-through. Per an explainer, Landrieu, formerly New Orleans’ mayor, will be tasked with overseeing implementation vis-a-vis economic competitiveness and freight supply chains.

“I am thankful to the president and honored to be tasked with coordinating the largest infrastructure investment in generations,” Landrieu said in a statement accompanying the White House’s announcement.

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The Last Word

One of the three reasons that we’re having the supply chain problems that we’re having is the lack of investment in infrastructure and other policy changes that could have made our logistics system more flexible and nimble.

Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx, on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Nov. 7

FedEx CEO Fred Smith

We publish Mondays when Congress is in session and add updates throughout the week. See previous installments of Capitol Agenda here. Email emulero@ttnews.com with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics.

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