WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced a deal to expand operations at the Port of Los Angeles to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as prices keep climbing and container ships wait to dock in a traffic jam threatening the U.S. economy and holiday shopping.
Prices are jumping in large part because container ships are stranded at ports and because unloaded goods are waiting for trucks, leading to mass shortages and delays that have caused a longer than expected bout of inflation.
The rising costs are eating into worker pay, creating a drag on growth and driving Republican criticism of Biden just as his multitrillion-dollar tax, economic, climate and infrastructure agenda is going through congressional negotiations.
“With holidays coming up, you might be wondering if the gifts you plan to buy will arrive on time,” Biden said. “Today we have some good news: We're going to help speed up the delivery of goods all across America.”
Ports are just one piece of the puzzle, Biden said. The country needs more truck drivers, private retailers to step up and better infrastructure, as well as a supply chain that can less easily be disrupted by pandemics and extreme weather.
Ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, account for 40% of all shipping containers entering the United States. As of Tuesday, there were 64 ships berthed at the two ports and 80 waiting to dock and unload, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.
Commitments by the Los Angeles port's operator, longshoremen and several of the country's largest retail and shipping companies are expected to help relieve the backlog.
Walmart, FedEx, UPS, Target, Samsung and The Home Depot committed to unloading during off-peak hours, making it easier for the Los Angeles port to operate nonstop.
The Long Beach port has been operating nonstop about three weeks.
Biden also held a virtual roundtable with the heads of Walmart, FedEx Logistics, UPS, Target, Samsung Electronics North America, the Teamsters Union and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce before his speech.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has made inflation one of his central charges against Biden, a sign that getting prices under control could be essential for Democrats trying to hold onto congressional seats in next year's elections.