Young Drivers, Less Rules Will Ease Supply Constraints, GOP Says

  • Labor shortages contribute to bottlenecks in moving goods
  • U.S. seen relying ‘too much’ on China for supply chain

The U.S. is overly reliant on China and hinders the supply chain with too many regulations, House Republicans said after meeting with groups representing the shipping and trucking industries.

“The president has got just as much in terms of being a cause of the problem as anyone else, and we all need to be working together to try to solve this,” Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Wednesday after a roundtable with the groups.

Waiving some regulations and allowing younger truckers on the roads emerged as potential solutions in the lawmakers’ talks with representatives of the World Shipping Council and the American Trucking Associations, among others.

“You tell an 18-year-old you can’t drive a truck here in the commercial trucking industry, but an 18-year-old can go into a war zone and drive an 18-wheeler in a convoy,” Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) said. “These are the kinds of things I think frustrate the problem with labor shortages.”

Supply chain troubles have become a major concern for lawmakers and President Joe Biden as a shortage of workers and backlogged ports have slowed commerce ahead of the holidays. Graves, in a letter last month with about 160 other House Republicans, asked Biden to seek an end to negotiations over Democrats’ social spending and tax package and instead focus on the supply chain.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Trucks exit California’s Port of Oakland on Oct. 26, 2021 as the supply-chain crunch stretches from overseas manufacturers into American ports and retail stores, threatening the U.S. holiday shopping season.

The administration has announced several efforts to speed up the supply chain and alleviate bottlenecks, including turning ports in California into 24/7 operations, ordering a review of U.S. supply chains, and working with other countries.

Younger Truckers

The American Trucking Associations has estimated Covid-19 vaccine mandates could exacerbate a shortage of 80,000 truckers if drivers quit rather than get shots. Republicans said the labor shortage could be alleviated by policies such as allowing younger drivers to operate trucks and abandoning vaccine requirements.

Graves said one of the problems is the need for trucking companies to hire young drivers before they start having families and face increased time constraints.

A coalition of about 100 groups wrote an open letter to Biden Wednesday asking for a younger driver pilot program, more flexibility in hours-of-service regulations, help promoting transportation careers, and relaxed vaccine mandates.

Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.) said the next few months are expected to get worse for the supply chain and cited federal vaccine mandates. It “would be very prudent to have a waiver of all regulations and usual rules that are in place to get things back going again from an infrastructure standpoint,” he said.

“What this is showcasing is all the deficiencies that we had in our infrastructure in terms of truck drivers and in terms of rules and regulations that make it difficult for ports,” Rouzer said.

Infrastructure Bill, China

Democrats and the Biden administration have been urging the House to pass the Senate infrastructure bill (H.R. 3684) to funnel money into ports to help alleviate supply backlogs. But Graves said the majority of that bill’s money would go to electrification, instead of dredging and making ports accessible to larger ships. Spending is “being misguided” when it “could have a direct impact,” Graves said.

“It’s going to less carbon solutions, it has nothing to do with opening those ports up or trying to get those ports more accessible to more ships,” he said.

The U.S. dependence on China also figured in the roundtable discussions. Crawford said the U.S. relies “entirely too much” on China for producing items such as shipping containers and cranes, and called for more accountability on trade.

The U.S. needs to figure out how to “rely on ourselves for our supply chain and not be beholden to an economy that doesn’t have our best interests at heart,” Crawford said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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