Biden at Baltimore port, showcasing inflation fight

by Josh Boak THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

With Americans facing the highest annual inflation rate in decades, President Joe Biden is trying to persuade the U.S.  his infrastructure economic plans can fix the problem.

The president toured the Port of Baltimore on Wednesday for the start of what is likely to be a national tour to showcase the US$1 trillion legislation that cleared Congress last week and that he intends to sign on Monday. The president intends to emphasize how the spending can strengthen global supply chains to help lower prices, reduce shortages and add union jobs, the White House says.

That message became more critical after the government reported Wednesday that consumer prices in October climbed 6.2% from a year ago. Inflation has intensified instead of fading as the economy reopened after the coronavirus pandemic, creating a major challenge for Biden whose administration repeatedly said that the price increases were temporary.

“Reversing this trend is a top priority for me,” Biden said in a statement, adding that during his visit he would explain how the infrastructure bill would reduce supply bottlenecks and “make goods more available and less costly.”

Higher prices have eaten into wages and turned public sentiment on the economy against Biden in polls. One of the obstacles for reducing inflation has been backlogged ports with ships waiting to dock at major transit hubs, causing shortages and leaving some store shelves depleted ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Biden is pointing to Baltimore’s port as a blueprint on how to reduce shipping bottlenecks that have held back the economic recovery.

Building Baltimore

The port in Baltimore is adding container cranes as well as a 50-foot berth where ships can be unloaded. Baltimore’s port is also benefiting from grants to upgrade the Howard Street Tunnel, a brick-lined underpass for trains that opened in 1895. The tunnel would be expanded so that shipping containers could be double-stacked on railcars, making it easier to move goods out of the port.

Before his remarks he toured a warehouse for imports at the port. “I’ll tell you what. This is an incredible operation,” Biden said to the gathered port workers.

The president, who consulted with the CEOs of Walmart, Target, FedEx and UPS on Tuesday, plans to emphasize that these investments are part of a national effort to relieve supply chain bottlenecks in ways that can aid broader growth.

Focus on ports

His administration also announced new investments to reduce congestion at the Port of Savannah in Georgia, nearly a month after the administration helped broker a deal for the Port of Los Angeles to operate nonstop.

The president has been trying to explain that the port congestion shows just how strong the economic rebound from the pandemic has been. A forecast by the National Retail Federation suggests a record level of imports this year.

The inflation phenomenon is also global in nature, with Germany and China recently reporting high levels.

Biden sees Baltimore as a test case for his agenda that goes beyond the ports. His child tax credits are sending thousands of dollars to families in a city with a child poverty rate north of 30 percent. Work has begun to renovate and modernize the historic Penn Station, possibly improving rail transit across the Northeast.

A big part of Biden’s pitch is that he succeeded on a bipartisan infrastructure deal, whereas Trump failed.

Biden said Tuesday at a virtual event hosted by the Democratic National Committee that Trump never delivered for the country’s cities and ports.

“So it was left to us,” he said. “We got the job done.”