Tuesday, April 23

Baltimore Key Bridge: House Republicans divided after Biden vows feds will foot the bill

House Republicans are divided over how to approach rebuilding the Francis Scott Key Bridge as federal and state officials race to assess the deadly collapse and make plans to restore the Port of Baltimore.

A Singapore-linked container ship collided with the bridge early on Tuesday, sending the structure into the water. Officials have not given a timeline when they expect the Maryland port, one of the busiest on the East Coast, to reopen.

President Biden vowed earlier this week that the federal government would foot the bill for reconstructing the bridge and called on Congress to back him up. Early reports have indicated it could cost as much as $2 billion.

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., who along with the rest of Maryland’s congressional delegation is calling for federal support, also argued the private companies involved in the incident should make up the cost.

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“It was easy for the president to promise someone else’s money, American taxpayers’ money, but I think American taxpayers would kind of wish that he had the response he had after the East Palestine disaster, which is to call for the companies responsible to pay for the damages,” Harris told Fox News Digital, referencing last year’s toxic chemical train derailment in Ohio.

He also noted that there is federal funding immediately available for situations such as this. The federal government approved $60 million in emergency dollars on Thursday.

“We should actually be seeking to get money from those foreign companies… that operate the ship and chartered the ship,” Harris said.

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Another conservative, Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., called Biden’s promise “absurd” and “idiotic” in a text message to Fox News Digital.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., noted that the event was a “tragedy,” with six construction workers having lost their lives, but called on Biden to reallocate aid funds from his mammoth $1 trillion infrastructure law signed in 2021.

“While I mourn the lives lost in Baltimore, we cannot haphazardly spend over $1 billion as America is $34 trillion in debt. Before we spend one more dime for domestic infrastructure, we must build a domestic border wall,” Duncan said. “Any funds used to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge should be reprogrammed from Biden’s wasteful infrastructure bill.”

It’s a sign that House GOP leaders could have some trouble navigating their razor-thin majority with a supplemental relief bill — though opposition will likely only go so far, with any measure expected to get broad bipartisan support. 

On the other hand, House Rules Committee Chair Tom Cole, R-Okla., who also chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on transportation, told Fox News Digital that he’s open to supporting federal funding.

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“I’m not hostile to that at all,” Cole said of Biden’s vow, noting that the port’s closure affects the national economy.

“I’ve learned more about the Port of Baltimore than I knew in the last 48 hours, in terms of how important it is… whether it’s moving automobiles through there, and moving agricultural — both exports and imports — in terms of supplies and machinery. It’s a very important facility, and it’s going to ripple through the national economy,” Cole explained. “I’m not going to quibble with the President of the United States over this…and certainly, Baltimore has every reason to expect a full and robust federal response.”

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told MSNBC earlier this week that she expects insurance payments to cover some of the cost.

But GOP Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, who dealt with the after-effects of a tornado as mayor of Knox County, pointed out from experience that insurance payments take time to process. He told Fox News Digital he would keep “an open mind” about the federal government potentially paying the whole bill, if the insurance went to repayment later.

“With insurance claims, it’s going to be a long, drawn-out process. If we had some agreement at some point that, you know, they would apply those funds back towards [the government], I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” Burchett said. “I believe it’s a federal highway. And so… it’s going to need to be addressed. It’s a huge detriment to those people.”

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