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Biden calls for ocean shipping overhaul as part of inflation response

President says shipper price hikes made him ‘viscerally angry’

President Joe Biden delivers remarks aboard the Battleship USS Iowa Museum at the Port of Los Angeles on Friday.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks aboard the Battleship USS Iowa Museum at the Port of Los Angeles on Friday. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Faced with another eye-popping inflation report, President Joe Biden on Friday placed extra emphasis on the House passing a bipartisan bill aimed at reducing ocean shipping costs for goods entering U.S. ports.

During remarks on inflation from the Port of Los Angeles, Biden praised the work of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and fellow California Democratic Rep. John Garamendi on addressing the issue. Garamendi was among the lawmakers attending Biden’s remarks Friday. He also once again laid blame on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Today’s inflation report confirmed what Americans already know: Putin’s price hike is hitting America hard. Gas prices at the pump, energy and food prices account for half of the monthly price increases since May. Inflation outside of energy and food … moderated, the last few months,” Biden said. “We need it to come down much more quickly.”

All told, inflation was 8.6 percent over the year ended in May, according to the consumer price index data published Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The president took aim at the status of competition among “foreign-owned” shipping companies.

“Every once in a while, something you learn makes you viscerally angry,” Biden said. “There are nine, nine major ocean-line shipping companies that ship from Asia to the United States.”

Biden said the nine companies, formed into a trio of consortia, raised prices “by as much as 100 percent.”

“The Senate passed legislation that I am hopeful the House will enact soon to crack down on these companies, as I’ve asked, and lower the cost,” the president said.

The measure, which is expected on the House floor next week under the expedited procedure requiring a two-thirds vote for passage, would overhaul shipping laws for the first time since the enactment of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 1998.

“Rising costs are top of mind right now for the American people, and one of the more flummoxing causes of inflation is the crushing backlog that we are seeing at our ports. We have all seen the pictures of scores of ships lining up in ports from Los Angeles, to Savannah, to Seattle, to my home port of New York and New Jersey,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Thursday on the Senate floor. “These backlogs have created serious price hikes. According to one study from earlier this year, the price to transport a container from China to the West Coast of the United States costs 12 times — 12 times — as much as it did two years ago.”

This bill includes numerous provisions intended to help reduce ocean shipping costs and address supply chain issues. For instance, the measure would give the Federal Maritime Commission temporary authority to issue emergency orders that would help alleviate shipping congestion problems.

It also would set new shipping standards under which ocean carriers could not refuse to carry certain cargoes.

“I’m glad the Senate unanimously passed this important legislation that would level the playing field for American farmers, exporters, and consumers by making it harder for ocean carriers to unreasonably refuse goods that are ready to export at U.S. ports,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said in a statement after the bill passed the Senate at the end of March. “Especially with record inflation in prices of goods, this legislation would also benefit consumers by promoting the fluidity and efficiency of the supply chain.”

Karin Fuog contributed to this report.

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