Freedom Caucus Says No Baltimore Aid Unless ...

Freedom Caucus Says No Baltimore Aid Unless ...

President Biden speaks in Baltimore
USA Today Network via Reuters Connect
By Michael Rainey
Friday, April 5, 2024

Happy Friday! We’re still marveling at the 4.8 magnitude earthquake that struck parts of the Northeast earlier today, which appears to have caused no serious damage but did provide a surprising jolt with our morning coffee.

Here’s what else is shaking as we await the big eclipse coming up on Monday afternoon.

Biden Pledges Full Federal Support for Baltimore as Conservatives Make Demands

President Joe Biden visited Baltimore on Friday to survey the wreck of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and offer continued support for the reconstruction effort.

"I’m here to say your nation has your back," Biden said after receiving a briefing from local officials. "The damage is devastating and our hearts are still breaking," he added, referring to the loss experienced by the local community, which includes the deaths of six road workers.

He pledged "to move heaven and Earth to rebuild this bridge as rapidly as humanly possible."

Biden said that thanks to the recovery work done so far, he expects the port of Baltimore to reopen to some commercial traffic by the end of April, with the main channel open by the end of May. And he repeated his call for the federal government to cover all costs associated with clearing the wreckage and rebuilding the bridge.

"I call on Congress to authorize this effort as soon as possible," the president said. "We will support Maryland and Baltimore every step of the way to help you rebuild and maintain all the business and commerce that’s here now."

White House budget director Shalanda Young sent a letter to congressional leaders Friday asking lawmakers for their prompt cooperation. "The Federal Government should cover any needed costs for reconstructing the bridge," she wrote. "While we continue to assess those costs alongside our Federal and State partners, we are asking the Congress to join us in demonstrating our commitment to aid in recovery efforts by authorizing a 100 percent Federal cost share for rebuilding the bridge."

Young noted that such authorization would be consistent with previous bridge disasters, including the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minnesota in 2007. And she said the Biden administration would pursue payments from private firms and insurance companies connected to the disaster, to "reduce costs for the American people."

Conservatives make demands: The House Freedom Caucus said Friday that it has a list of demands related to providing federal funds for the reconstruction of the bridge. The far-right group with about three dozen members said that before Congress considers providing funds, it wants to see an effort to recover money from "foreign shipping companies." It also wants the Port of Baltimore to draw first on existing federal funds, and if any new funds are necessary, they must be "fully offset."

That’s not all. In addition, the caucus said that "burdensome" federal regulations, such as the Endangered Species Act and labor agreements, must be waived during the rebuilding, and any supplemental spending bill must be focused only on the bridge project. Finally, the group demanded that the Biden administration lift its pause on the approval of liquified natural gas terminals, which have been in limbo since January.

What comes next: Congress may consider a supplemental bill to provide additional funds to Baltimore when lawmakers return next week, but there is no clear plan yet and there are many competing priorities, including a possible aid bill for Ukraine. Opposition from some conservatives in the House may make the hurdle to providing timely aid to the port city that much higher.

Jobs Market Sizzles, Unemployment Rate Dips to 3.8%

In the latest sign that the U.S. economy is maintaining its gravity-defying momentum, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that employers added 303,000 jobs in March, smashing expectations of about 200,000 for the month. Analysts also revised job growth for the previous two months upward by 22,000.

The unemployment rate dropped to 3.8%, down from 3.9% in February, hovering near a 50-year low. The jobless rate fell even though 469,000 people entered the labor force looking for work, raising the labor force participation rate from 62.5% to 62.7%.

Wages continued to grow at a solid clip, with average hourly earnings rising 0.3% from February to March, and up 4.1% on a year-on-year basis, providing a real increase even after discounting for inflation. And employment in the leisure and hospitality sector finally returned to its pre-pandemic level, four years after being crushed by Covid-19.

The White House celebrated the latest in a series of good economic news. "Today’s report marks a milestone in America’s comeback," President Biden said in a statement. "Three years ago, I inherited an economy on the brink. With today’s report of 303,000 new jobs in March, we have passed the milestone of 15 million jobs created since I took office."

What the experts are saying: Neil Irwin of Axios marveled at the latest snapshot of the economy. "If you went into a lab and tried to design the perfect jobs report, you'd have a hard time coming up with something better than the one the Labor Department issued Friday at 8:30am ET," he wrote.

Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer at the Independent Advisor Alliance, said the report erases any concerns about a slowing economy. "This morning's blowout jobs numbers show that the economy isn't showing any signs of slowing down," he wrote. Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, said that not only is the job market not weakening, but it may be picking up speed. "The US labor market appears to be strengthening, not slowing," he wrote in a research note.

Some economists attributed the strong job to higher-than-expected immigration, at least in part. Noting that the labor force participation rate rose, former PIMCO chief Mohamed A. El-Erian said the results were "consistent with the favorable domestic supply side influence that has fueled the current phase of US economic exceptionalism relative to most other advanced countries."

Former Obama administration economist Jason Furman agreed, saying the latest numbers provide "more evidence that the high job growth is due to high working age population growth."

What’s the Fed to do? The only wrinkle in the solid jobs report is that it could push the Federal Reserve to delay widely anticipated interest rate cuts. Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase, said he thinks the data point to another delay in rate cuts, with Fed officials more likely to move ahead with cuts in July rather than June.

Dallas Fed President Lorie Logan said Friday there are "meaningful risks" that inflation could run closer to 3% than 2%, the central bank’s target rate. Accordingly, it is "much too soon to think about cutting interest rates," she said.


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