Unanswered questions remain for Buttigieg, Biden on supply chain catastrophe

Unanswered questions remain for Buttigieg, Biden on supply chain catastrophe
© Greg Nash

As is becoming increasingly apparent in political media, focusing on the sizzle of a news story trumps shining a light on the actual steak. A recent example was the supply chain crisis and the person tasked with leading the effort to resolve it, Transportation Secretary Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden to announce increased measures for omicron Pressed on 2024, Buttigieg says 'we are squarely focused on the job at hand' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks up bright side beneath omicron's cloud MORE

The crisis could end up being the domestic story of the year because supply chain problems are affecting every American. As inventories of basic goods decline, prices continue to rise at a time when core inflation is already at a 30-year high.

And many businesses, particularly small businesses – for which the holiday season can make or break a fiscal year – will be devastated by the inability to sell items because they're simply not being delivered. 

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Secretary Buttigieg should answer three simple questions: How many ports have you visited? How many port operators and trucking executives have you met with in person? Who served as acting director during your extended paternity leave

The answers to the first two questions are: None and none. Buttigieg has held some virtual meetings with port operators and trucking executives. But what tangible steps – now that ports will remain open 24/7, per President Biden’s recent order – are being taken to hire more port workers and truckers, when a severe shortage exists?

How severe? Per CBS News

“Amid a shortage of truck drivers, there are more than 13 loads for every truck at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, adding to the supply chain backlog.

“‘I’ve heard six months, I’ve heard 18 months, I’ve heard a year, I’ve heard 2023. Nobody can really pinpoint exactly when the backup is going to stop,’ Matt Schrap, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, told CBS.” 

2023 — that's 14 months from now. And, again, businesses that managed to survive are just now climbing out of the pandemic. Americans – particularly those on tight budgets – will feel the brunt of the pain, despite what White House Chief of Staff Ron KlainRon KlainNew variant raises questions about air travel mandates White House scrambles for safety on holiday parties The massive messaging miscues of all the president's men (and women) MORE argued recently in one of the most tone-deaf retweets of the year.

Yes. "High class problems." 

Only rich people drive cars and purchase gasoline, the price of which is up a whopping 42 percent compared to last year. 

Only fat cats buy groceries, with prices for meat, eggs, fish and poultry up 10.5 percent compared to last year. Beef and veal are up 17.6 percent.  

Home heating costs, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is projected to rise by alarming numbers: Propane, 54 percent. Heating oil, 43 percent. Natural gas, 30 percent. 

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiOvernight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Biden's winter COVID-19 strategy Biden lays out multi-pronged plan to deal with evolving pandemic White House defends travel ban on African countries MORE also dismissed the supply chain crisis by making it about rich people not being able to get treadmills for their home gyms. 

Great messaging from the White House, which may explain why President BidenJoe BidenManchin to vote to nix Biden's vaccine mandate for larger businesses Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Senate cuts deal to clear government funding bill MORE’s poll numbers are sinking so fast. Quinnipiac's latest has him polling at 28 percent approval among independents, while his overall approval is averaging in the low 40s, or more than 10 points lower than where he was over the summer.

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The last question for Buttigieg – about who was in charge during his lengthy absence –has no good answer, because it constitutes dereliction of duty to be absent in the middle of a crisis. Here are some follow-up questions for Biden:

Why wasn't an acting secretary named while Secretary Buttigieg was on paternity leave for two months? Why didn’t the White House or Buttigieg himself announce he was going to be out for two months starting in August? 



This is what happens when major Cabinet positions are filled as political thank-yous, which is exactly what Biden did in tapping Buttigieg, who had no experience in supply chain, small business, Big Labor or transportation —  but did drop out of the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries and throw his support to Biden.

There is no excuse for the way the White House and transportation secretary have handled this. Buttigieg’s paternity leave has ended. But the supply chain crisis happening under his watch likely won’t end for a very long time.

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.