President Joe Biden met Wednesday with a group of private sector CEOs and administration officials for an update on addressing challenges to global supply chain issues and bottlenecks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The President’s Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force has made significant progress to alleviate bottlenecks that are rooted in the global pandemic, and today the President will convene members of his Cabinet and private sector CEOs for an update,” the White House said in a statement Wednesday.
And, indeed, the administration has made progress in addressing supply chain issues, including substantial efforts to clear backlogs at U.S. ports. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California — which handle 40% of the country’s imports — imported over 765,000 containers in November and more than 9.3 million containers so far in 2021, 15% higher than in 2018, the previous record.
At the start of the virtual meeting, Biden mentioned the dire warnings about supply chain problems impacting holiday gift purchases and deliveries.
“We acted a lot of recommendations to the people that you see on the screen here,” he said. “ … We brought together business and labor leaders to solve problems, and the much-predicted crisis didn't occur. Packages are moving, gifts are being delivered, shelves are not empty.”
All told, the number of long-dwelling containers sitting on the docks at ports for more than eight days has fallen by 49% since Nov. 1 — the average amount of time containers sit on docks has fallen by a week, according to the White House.
"Those two ports are much more fluid. The goods are moving faster," John Porcari, Biden’s port envoy, said in an interview with Spectrum News earlier this month. "As Americans, we have gotten used to our goods movement chain functioning without having to think about it twice. During the pandemic, we found out we don't have that luxury.”
The average price of gasoline, a major concern for millions of Americans, has fallen 12 cents to $3.29, according to AAA, since peaking last month. Twenty-one states have gas prices below $3.15, up from 11 states last month.
"Since Day 1, President Biden has been laser-focused on reopening the economy and has taken aggressive action to lower the price of goods and gasoline for Americans," the White House wrote in a fact sheet.
Biden on Wednesday credited his decision to release oil from the U.S. reserves and a deal with other countries to do the same for the falling cost of gasoline.
But the White House notes, Biden believes that gas prices are “too high especially given that we are emerging from a once-in-a-century pandemic” and pledged to do more to address gas prices.
The president listed a number of goals for continuing to strengthen the economy and make it more resilient, including addressing the truck driver shortage by cutting red tape slowing down registered apprenticeships, manufacturing more products domestically and creating more competition.
And three days after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he won’t vote for Biden’s $1.85 trillion Build Back Better plan, the president made it clear that he’s not giving up on the sweeping social and climate legislation.
On Tuesday, Goldman Sachs, now projecting the bill won’t pass, lowered its estimate for GDP growth in the first quarter of 2022 from a 3% annual pace to 2%.
“If we in fact seize this opportunity, I think we can lower costs for families, getting more people working and lower price pressures long-term. And we're going to keep working on all these fronts because it is so clearly what American families need right now.
The administration is also announcing $230 million in Port Infrastructure Development Grants, touting the program as the only federal initiative “wholly dedicated to investments in port infrastructure.”
The White House touted success that certain states have had in implementing recent funding initiatives to help alleviate supply chain issues, including the Port of Savannah launching “pop-up” container yards to reduce congestion using Port Action Plan investments, and Florida making a $250 million investment in ports made possible via funding from President Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill, the American Rescue Plan.
The meeting comes as the rise of the omicron variant — which is now the dominant coronavirus strain in the country — could threaten to disrupt supply chains once again.
The Biden administration will continue to watch "how the Omicron variant could compound global supply chain disruptions at Asian or U.S. ports, and is working with ports around the world to prioritize critical medical supplies and PPE,” the White House said in a statement.
Among those in the meeting Wednesday are FedEx CEO Fred Smith, GAP CEO Sonia Syngal and Christopher Connor, CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities, as well as administration officials Porcari, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.