Biden to visit Baltimore bridge collapse site, urge Congress to approve recovery funds

President Biden is scheduled to travel to Baltimore on Friday afternoon, where he will tour the wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers officials on site will give the president an operational update on response efforts as workers continue to clear the Patapsco River to reopen the Port of Baltimore. Biden will be joined by Gov. Wes Moore, Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and several federal representatives, as well as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and others, a White House official said.”The President is continuing to lead a whole-of-government approach to the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. As the President said within hours of the collapse: this Administration will be with the people of Baltimore every step of the way,” the official told reporters.Biden will also meet with the families of six construction workers who lost their lives when the bridge collapsed last week. BALTIMORE BRIDGE COLLAPSE: HOUSE FREEDOM CAUCUS DEMANDS LIMITS ON FEDERAL REBUILD FUNDINGA Singapore-flagged container ship lost power and struck one of the bridge’s support pylons on March 26, causing the entire structure to fall apart. Two members of an eight-man work crew who were on the bridge at the time survived, and four bodies have been recovered. Two others are presumed dead. Their bodies have not been found. Officials have established a temporary, alternate channel for vessels involved in clearing debris. The Army Corps of Engineers hopes to open a limited-access channel for barge container ships and some vessels moving cars and farm equipment by the end of this month and to restore normal capacity to Baltimore’s port by May 31, the White House says.That’s important, since longer delays in reopening shipping lanes could send shockwaves through the economy. As much as $200 million in cargo normally moves through Baltimore’s port per day, and it is the leading hub for importing and exporting vehicles.US ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS PLANS TO REOPEN PORT OF BALTIMORE BY END OF APRIL AFTER KEY BRIDGE COLLAPSEIn Baltimore, Biden will highlight how the Federal Highway Administration has provided $60 million in “quick release” emergency relief funds to cover Maryland’s initial costs in the recovery effort.  His administration is also providing low-interest disaster loans to small businesses and granting funding for workers impacted by the port closure. The president is expected to reiterate his call for Congress to fully fund the cost of rebuilding the bridge, which some experts estimate could be at least $400 million, according to the Associated Press.Though there is widespread bipartisan support for an emergency funding bill for Maryland, members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus on Friday demanded that any new recovery spending be offset by cuts elsewhere.MARYLAND DIVERS GUIDED BY SONAR DUE TO EXTREME POOR VISIBILITY IN KEY BRIDGE REPAIR: LIKE A ‘SNOWSTORM’”Before Congress considers any emergency supplemental funding for the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, it’s important that (1) we first seek maximum liability from the foreign shipping companies upfront and (2) the Port of Baltimore draws upon already available federal funds,” the group said.”If it proves necessary to appropriate taxpayer money to get one of America’s busiest ports back online, Congress should ensure it is fully offset and that burdensome regulations … are waived to avoid all unnecessary delays and costs.”The Freedom Caucus also demanded that the House adhere to the “single subject rule” for any proposed bill — meaning that the legislation be solely for Maryland and not a “pork-filled bill loaded with unrelated projects.” But the conservative group’s opposition is unlikely to hinder a funding bill in the House, where Republicans and Democrats support the measure. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has appeared willing to accept Biden’s request, comparing bridge collapse assistance to natural disaster recovery bills and saying, “The federal government will step up and do the lion’s share” of funding. In a letter to congressional leaders, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young asked Congress to fund 100% of the cost of reconstruction and eliminate any requirement for Maryland to share the cost. The OMB director noted that Congress previously did so on a bipartisan basis in 2007, when a highway bridge in downtown Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 people. “We are asking the Congress to join us in demonstrating our commitment to aid in recovery efforts,” Young wrote.The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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