“There will be things that people can’t get,” at Christmas, White House warns

By Jarrett Renshaw and Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -White House officials, scrambling to relieve global supply bottlenecks choking U.S. ports, highways and railways, warn Americans may face higher prices and some empty shelves this Christmas season.

The supply crisis, driven in part by the global COVID-19 pandemic, not only threatens to dampen U.S. spending at a critical time, it also poses a political risk for U.S. President Joe Biden.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll shows the economy continues to be the most important issue to Democrats and Republicans alike.

The White House has been trying to tackle inflation-inducing supply bottlenecks of everything from meat to semiconductors, and formed a task force in June that meets weekly and named a “bottleneck” czar to push private sector companies to ease snarls.

Biden himself plans to meet with senior officials on Wednesday to discuss efforts to relieve transportation bottlenecks before delivering a speech on the topic.

Supply chain woes are weighing on retail and transportation companies, which recently issued a series of downbeat earnings outlooks. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve last month predicted a 2021 inflation rate of 4.2%, well above its 2% target.

American consumers, unused to empty store shelves, may need to be flexible and patient, White House officials said.

“There will be things that people can’t get,” a senior White House official told Reuters, when asked about holiday shopping.

“At the same time, a lot of these goods are hopefully substitutable by other things … I don’t think there’s any real reason to be panicked, but we all feel the frustration and there’s a certain need for patience to help get through a relatively short period of time.”

Inflation is biting wages. Labor Department data shows that Americans made 0.9% less per hour on average in August than they did one year prior.

The White House argues inflation is a sign that their decision to provide historic support to small businesses and households, through $1.9 trillion in COVID-19 relief funding, worked.

U.S. consumer demand stayed strong, outpacing global rivals, and the Biden administration expects the overall economy to grow at 7.1%, as inflation reaches its highest levels since the 1980s.

“We recognize that it has pinched families who are trying to get back to some semblance of normalcy as we move into the later stages of the pandemic,” said a second senior White House official.


In August, the White House tapped John Porcari, a veteran transportation official who served in the Obama administration as a new “envoy” to the nation’s ports, but he’s known as the bottleneck czar.

Porcari told Reuters the administration has worked to make sure various parts of the supply chain, such as ports and intermodal facilities, where freight is transferred from one form of transport to another, are in steady communication.

Now it is focused on getting ports and other transportation hubs to operate on a 24-hour schedule, taking advantage of off-peak hours to move more goods in the pipeline. California ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles have agreed to extended hours, and there are more to follow, he said in an interview Monday.

“We need to make better use of that off-peak capacity and that really is the current focus,” Porcari said.

The administration is also seeking to restore inactive rail yards for extra container capacity and create “pop-up” rail yards to increase capacity.

“It’s important to remember that the goods movement system is a private sector driven system,” he said. “There’s problems in every single part of that system. And, and they tend to compound each other.

“While the pandemic was an enormously disruptive force. I think it also laid bare what was an underlying reality, which was the system was strained before the pandemic.”


Republican strategists are seizing on possible Christmas shortages to bash Biden’s policies as inflationary, and thwart his attempt to push a multi-trillion dollar spending package through Congress in coming weeks.

A recent op-ed by Steve Cortes, a one-time advisor to former President Donald Trump, dubbed the upcoming holiday season “Biden’s Blue Christmas,” continuing in a long tradition of conservatives criticizing Democrats over celebrations around the Christian holiday.

Trump, considered the front-runner Republican candidate for president in 2024, blasted it out in a mass email through his political action committee, Save America.

Seth Weathers, a Republican strategist who ran Trump’s Georgia campaign in 2016 said they see local impact. “People here in Georgia are paying twice as much for items than they paid a year ago and they are blaming Biden. He’s in charge.”

A Quinnipiac poll released last week showed Biden is losing the public’s trust on the economy, with only 29% of public thinking the U.S. economy is in “good” or “excellent” condition, compared with 35% in April.

“President Biden could use a holiday season win,” Quinnipiac polling analyst Tim Malloy said. “A slowdown of holiday season deliveries and the financial strain that comes with it would be coal in the stocking for the Administration at the close of the first year in office.”

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Heather Timmons, Richard Pullin and Aurora Ellis)

Trump administration’s infrastructure plan taking shape

: Steel beams on the draw span, which needs replacement, are shown on the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2016.

By Ginger Gibson and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration is finalizing its long-awaited infrastructure plan, which would push most of the financing of projects to private investment and state and local taxpayers, according to sources familiar with the proposal taking shape.

President Donald Trump, who spoke frequently of improving U.S. infrastructure during his 2016 campaign, may preview the plan in his Jan. 30 State of the Union address, but details are not expected until afterward, the sources said.

Two people briefed on it said it would likely recommend dividing $200 billion in federal funding over 10 years into four pools of funds. The administration is structuring the plan in hopes of encouraging $1.35 trillion in state, local and private financing to build and repair the nation’s bridges, highways, waterworks and other infrastructure, one source said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest business lobbying group in Washington, is even backing a 25 cent increase in the federal gasoline tax to make that happen.

It is unusual for a business group to call for a tax increase, but the Chamber argues that it is necessary to fund critical infrastructure projects.

“It’s time to invest in a 21st century infrastructure, a system of infrastructures to support and grow a 21st century economy,” said Tom Donohue, the Chamber’s president, in a speech on Thursday as part of the organizations renewed public push for action.

“It’s time to make up for decades of underinvestment that today is evident in everything from bone-rattling potholes and endless traffic gridlock, to deadly train derailments and destructive water main breaks,” he said.

The numbers in the Trump plan are still in flux and could change before he unveils it. The prospects of winning approval in Congress are uncertain given that Republicans have only a 51-49 majority in the Senate.

Many Republicans want to use private-sector investment to finance infrastructure projects to avoid increasing the national debt. Democrats believe that government money is necessary to produce such a large package.


Under the Trump plan being shaped, the largest share of the federal money – $100 billion – is expected to go toward cost-sharing projects with local governments, similar to grants.

The goal would be to reduce the ratio of federal funding, which often now is 80 percent, by awarding funds only to projects that are able to provide more local funding or leverage private investment, said a business lobbyist familiar with the discussion.

Some $50 billion would be earmarked for rural projects, the lobbyist said. Those funds would help governors on projects like roads, broadband access and replacing aging lead pipes. Including a pool for rural infrastructure could also reduce concerns among some Republican senators who fear rural areas may be unable to attract private investments.

Twenty-five billion dollars would go toward existing federal infrastructure loan programs that seek to spur private investment, the lobbyist said.

The final $25 billion would be designated for so-called transformative projects – an effort being dubbed “American Spirit” projects. They could include high-speed trains or the Gateway Tunnel, the stalled proposal to build a new rail connection between New York City and New Jersey.

The plan may not deliver any additional federal money than in years past. The proposal could take $200 billion from existing spending plans – although the administration has not yet committed to whether it would come from existing programs or whether the money would be found elsewhere.

The administration is unlikely to rule out any forms of funding – including increasing the federal gas tax or creating a vehicle mileage tax, which would put electric cars that now use the roads but do not consume much gasoline on the same footing as cars with internal combustion engines, sources said.

Donohue made four recommendations for the infrastructure package including raising the gas tax and also recommended expanding the ability of states to access private investment funds to complete projects, reducing the federal permitting process and addressing state and local permitting rules.

He also called for more federally backed workforce training – including more apprenticeship programs. As part of that, Donohue reiterated the Chamber’s call for passing comprehensive immigration reform, a proposal where business has been at odds with the Trump administration.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson and David Shepardson; Editing by Damon Darlin, Peter Cooney and Susan Thomas)

Chicago’s gang violence catches highway drivers in crossfire

Mother cries for her son who was shot on the highway

By Timothy Mclaughlin

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Jonathan Ortiz and other members of his rap group, No Nights Off, stepped onto the stage at Chicago’s House of Blues in mid-September for a concert they hoped would propel their young, promising careers.

Less than two weeks later, the 22-year-old Ortiz, who forebodingly rapped under the stage name “John Doe,” was fatally shot as he drove on an expressway in Chicago. His girlfriend Alexis Garcia also got a bullet lodged in her back.

Ortiz and Garcia were victims of the 38th shooting on Chicago-area expressways in 2016, a record-high number for a city stung by a murder rate not seen in two decades.

“It is overwhelming that this is the reality in Chicago, that you can drive on the expressway now and get shot at,” said Tanue David, a family support specialist with the outreach group Chicago Survivors, who is working with the Ortiz family.

Officials say gang violence is increasingly spilling over onto Chicago’s expressways, with innocent drivers sometimes caught in the crossfire, while the state police force is shrinking.

The Illinois State Police, which has jurisdiction over the expressways, blamed gang warfare for the increased highway shoot-outs in 2016 that pose “an extreme danger to the motoring public.”

Ortiz was shot on Interstate 290, one of five expressways within city limits where shootings took place.


Ortiz and Garcia were shot on the morning of Sept. 29 while Ortiz drove her SUV not far from his mother’s home.

Chicago police said Ortiz had no criminal record and several family members and friends said he was not affiliated with a gang. He and Garcia met three years ago on the shores of Lake Michigan.

“He was calm, that’s how I knew that God took him fast,” Garcia, who grew up in a suburb of Chicago, said of the moments after Ortiz was shot.

In 2011 and 2012, there were nine shootings on city expressways, according to state police, which had no data prior to that.

That number jumped to 16 in 2013 and 19 in 2014. It nearly doubled the next year to 37 and climbed again in 2016 to 47. Three shootings last year were fatal.

The rise in highway shootings came as Chicago suffered a broader surge in violence that saw 762 people murdered in 2016, a 57 percent increase from 2015, and the highest number since 1996.

The number drew the attention of President-elect Donald Trump, who said that Chicago’s mayor must ask for U.S. government help if the city fails to reduce its murder rate. [nL1N1ES0LX]

Chicago police cite a number of factors, including splintering gang structures and police drawing back from confrontation out of fear of increased scrutiny for their actions.

Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has vehemently blamed lax regulations for gun repeat offenders. “The people committing these crimes think the consequences for their actions are a joke,” he said last month.


State police launched the Chicago Expressway Anti-violence Surge in February 2016 after the seventh freeway shooting, deploying aircraft, undercover officers and unmarked vehicles.

But the shooting numbers remained high and arrests were made in only one of last year’s expressway shootings. Uncooperative victims and expansive crime scenes hamper efforts to solve the cases, state police said.

Political gridlock in Springfield is also a factor, said Joe Moon, president of the Illinois Troopers Lodge 41 Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing state troopers.

Feuding between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the legislature has kept the state without a full operating budget since July 2015. That meant no cadet hires in 2015 and 2016, and 2017 remains in limbo as well, state police said. [nL1N1DF1XU]

Since 2000, the number of sworn officers has declined steadily to just over 1,600 from around 2,100, Moon said.

State police said the budget impasse had no impact on the force’s work. Governor Rauner’s spokeswoman, Catherine Kelly, declined to comment beyond what state police said.

At a December vigil, friends and family gathered by a roadside memorial of flowers and photos as one of Ortiz’s songs thumped from a nearby sports car.

“Chicago I beg of you … this needs to stop,” Ortiz’s friend Sharee Washington, 29, said. “You are destroying people.”

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio)