U.S. President Joe Biden is headed to the eastern port of Baltimore, Maryland, on Wednesday to trumpet his newly approved $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending package that he hopes will improve the efficiency of U.S. dock operations and end the logjam of container ships that are anchored off the U.S. Pacific coast waiting to be unloaded.
The construction measure is aimed chiefly at repairing the country’s deteriorating roads and bridges and expanding broadband internet service throughout the U.S. But it also includes $17 billion for port infrastructure and waterways and another $25 billion for airports to ease the shipment of consumer goods.
Biden plans to sign the legislation in the coming days, when key lawmakers return to Washington from a weeklong recess.
Ahead of Biden’s visit to Baltimore, the White House said, “Port infrastructure and waterway investments will double as an investment in environmental justice in and around port facilities by deploying zero-emission technologies and reducing idling and emissions, which impair air quality in adjacent neighborhoods and communities, often which are historically disadvantaged.”
It said the new funding was especially needed because some rankings show that no U.S. airports rank among the top 25 worldwide for efficiency or ports in the top 50.
The dozens of container ships currently anchored off the country’s Pacific coast, waiting for consumer goods shipped from Asian ports to be unloaded, have left many U.S. retailers with dwindling stocks of clothes, household products and vehicles to sell heading into the end-of-the-year holiday gift-giving season. Consumer spending accounts for 70% of the U.S. economy, the world’s largest.
The U.S. economy has continued to advance from the depths of the turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but with conflicting effects for American workers and shoppers, according to two new reports Wednesday.
One Labor Department report Wednesday showed that first-time claims for unemployment compensation have now fallen for six straight weeks, down to 267,000 last week, just above the 256,000 total in mid-March 2020, when the coronavirus first swept into the U.S.
But Labor said in a second report that the consumer price index increased at a three-decade-high pace in October, up at an annualized 6.2% rate. The report indicates this largely results from consumer demand for hard-to-get goods and the supply chain bottleneck at U.S. ports.
Food shoppers — which is to say, all consumers — have noticed the higher prices in grocery stores, while motorists are facing sharply increased prices at gas pumps and used car prices have jumped as well.
“We are making progress on our recovery,” Biden said in a statement after release of the two reports. “Jobs are up, wages are up, home values are up, personal debt is down, and unemployment is down. We have more work to do, but there is no question that the economy continues to recover and is in much better shape today than it was a year ago.”
But he acknowledged the effect of higher consumer prices on American households, a political liability for the president.
“Inflation hurts Americans’ pocketbooks, and reversing this trend is a top priority for me,” he said.
Biden blamed higher energy costs and supply chain shortcomings for the higher prices consumers are paying.
The Baltimore port Biden is visiting is not one of the country’s biggest since it is not located directly on the Atlantic Ocean, with ships having to sail north through the Chesapeake Bay to reach the city. It ranks well behind huge ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, on the country’s Pacific coast, yet still unloaded more than 43 million tons of goods in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic limited shipping throughout the world last year.
The White House said the infrastructure spending is needed because “decades of neglect and underinvestment in our infrastructure have left the links in our goods movement supply chains struggling to keep up with the rapid and persistent increase in goods movement that the pandemic has generated.”