Photos of cargo containers backed up at ports and complaints from consumers about delivery delays and shortages have jolted the Biden administration into action, forcing it to focus on supply chains and the cost-containment features of the Build Back Better legislation. On both counts, the White House received some good news on Wednesday.

As Steve Rattner, who served as auto-industry czar in the Obama administration, explains, “It’s still hard to get a new iPhone quickly, but the good news is that the supply bottlenecks are showing signs of easing.” While the appearance of a new coronavirus variant could affect progress and not all supply chain issues have been resolved, Rattner argues that “for now, we can be at least a little bit hopeful.”

That’s because pressure from President Biden and local government officials on ports is showing results. Rattner explains, “In mid-November, 86 container ships were floating around San Pedro Bay waiting for a berth. Today, just two weeks later, that figure is down to 44, roughly where we were in early September.” As a result, the cost of sending a container from China to the West Coast, which hit a high of more than $20,000, is down about 25 percent.

During remarks on Wednesday, Biden boasted that “because of the actions the administration has taken in partnership with business and labor, retailers and grocery stores, freight movers and railroads, those [holiday] shelves are going to be stocked.” He added: “The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have moved 16 percent more containers so far this year than last year. By working with business and labor, my administration has been able to handle the huge surge in goods moving through some of our biggest ports.” He also said that the executives of major retailers told him that “they’re ready to meet the consumer demand for the holidays.”

President Biden, speaking at the Group of 20 summit in Rome on Oct. 31, announced actions his administration is taking to tackle supply chain delays. (The Washington Post)
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Biden’s message on inflation is sharper and tougher than it had previously been. He now stresses Build Back Better’s cost-containment features, arguing on Wednesday, “It will lower out-of-pocket costs for child care, elder care, housing, college, health care and prescription drugs. These are the biggest costs that most families face.”

The president has also given up on tiptoeing around Republican obstructionism, slamming the GOP for effectively preventing families from taking advantage of lower costs. “Now my Republican friends are talking a lot about prices,” he said, “but they’re lined up against my Build Back Better (BBB) plan, which would go right at the problem for rising costs for families.”

In some of his most pointed language, he accused the GOP of rooting for failure, taking specific aim at Florida Sen. Rick Scott’s gaffe that inflation is a “gold mine” for Republicans. As Biden said:

What does a “no” vote mean on this bill? Not on cable news, not on Fox, not — in the real world, in your life, around your kitchen table. Well, here’s what it’s going to mean: It means for millions of American families, this bill — the bills you’re paying right now for day care could be substantially lowered, capped at 7 percent of your income. But the Republicans said, “No, pay more.” It means the bills you’re paying right now to take care of your elderly parent could have been lower — a lot lower. But Republicans said, “No, don’t vote for this bill. Pay more.” It means the cost of your prescription drugs could have been lower — a lot lower. But Republicans think that those 200,000 children, for example, who need regular doses of insulin should continue to pay as much as $1,000 a month, instead of $35 a month. . . .
We’re in a situation that as far as Republicans are concerned, they’d rather the bills at your kitchen table be higher so the tax bills of corporate conference rooms and big mansions can be lower. In this case, let me tell you something: Nothing will be more expensive for American families than a “no” vote on the Build Back Better plan.

That should be the Democrats’ 2022 argument in a nutshell, provided they can get the BBB bill over the finish line.

To bolster his case, Biden pointed to a new study from the Democratic centrist think tank Third Way, which found that BBB’s child tax credit, child-care spending caps, expanded Affordable Care Act premium caps and measures to close the Medicaid coverage gap would result in an average savings of $7,400 for a family of four. For the average single mother with two kids, the measures could save $15,000. Third Way also notes: “Not included in this calculation are the benefits families could receive such as universal Pre-K if they had a 3- or 4-year-old child, new housing subsidies, or SNAP benefits, among many others.”

Republicans, having made inflation a central critique of the Biden agenda, will now find the White House taking credit for progress on supply chains. The administration will also be able to paint Republican opposition to the BBB plan as akin to cheering inflation. We will see whether the GOP’s strategy works, but at least Biden is making the argument best suited to respond to obstructionist Republicans.