Biden responds to supply chain crisis, urges private sector to 'step up'

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President Biden called Wednesday for private sector businesses to "step up" and assist his administration’s latest push to address a supply chain crisis that has sparked fears of empty shelves during the critical holiday shopping season.

Biden’s push coincided with the White House’s announcement that the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will shift to 24/7 operations to clear a cargo backlog. Several prominent retailers and logistics companies, including Walmart and UPS, have agreed to extend their hours of operation in response to supply chain disruptions.

"We need the rest of the private sector chain to step up as well," Biden said. "This is not called a supply chain for nothing. This means terminal operators, railways, trucking companies, shippers and other retailers as well. Stretching our supply chain will continue to be my team’s focus."

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Shipping containers are unloaded from a ship at a container terminal at the Port of Long Beach-Port of Los Angeles complex, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2021. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo (Reuters Photos)

Supply chain disruptions have hindered efforts to bolster the U.S. economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Key raw materials needed for construction and components such as semiconductors are in short supply, while a labor shortage has contributed to a shipping logjam at major ports. 

Several major companies have noted higher logistics-related costs and disruptions to their normal operations. The issues have also impacted consumers in the form of empty shelves and higher prices, prompting fears that lower spending will slow the economic recovery.

Biden said his plan to address the problem "has the potential to be a game-changer" if the private sector adopts a similar blueprint. 

"This is the first key step for moving our entire freight, transportation and logistical supply chain nationwide to a 24/7 system," Biden said.

The White House noted the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach serve as the main point of entry for 40% of all shipping containers. Other notable private sector partners who agreed to extend hours include FedEx, Samsung, Home Depot and Target. 

Additionally, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said its members would be willing to work longer shifts to clear backlogs.

Container ships wait off the coast of the congested Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in Long Beach, California, Oct. 1, 2021. REUTERS/ Alan Devall (REUTERS/ Alan Devall / Reuters)

The White House’s recent warning that "there will be things that people can't get" during the holiday season drew sharp criticism from Republicans. GOP lawmakers have argued that Biden’s policies, such as vaccine mandates, have contributed to the labor shortage and the overall supply chain crisis.

Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the supply chain problems were a "crisis of President Biden's own making,"

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"While he is paying Americans more money to stay home instead of going back to work and implementing mandatory vaccine requirements that will add to the record number of Americans quitting their jobs under his tenure, companies simply cannot find manpower to drive trucks, offload ships, fulfill orders, or do any of the other millions of jobs needed to keep our supply chain functional," Graves said.

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While detailing his administration’s effort to address the supply chain, Biden reiterated his call for Congress to pass his two-pronged spending plan. The president noted his plan included record investments in port upgrades, adding it was "fully within our capacity to act to make sure it never happens again."

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Biden said cooperation from private companies was necessary to make long-term supply chain improvements.

"If the private sector doesn’t step up, we’re going to call them out and ask them to act, because our goal is not only to get through this immediate bottleneck but to get through the longstanding weaknesses in our transportation supply chain that this pandemic has exposed," he added.

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