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At Baltimore port, Biden reassures Americans about shipping snags, inflation

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There are still more than a hundred container ships stuck off the coast of Southern California. The blocked ports are just one of the factors leading to massive breakdowns in supply chains, which means American consumers aren't getting the goods they want when they want them. And even if they do, prices keep going up. In a moment, we'll hear from the executive director of the Port of Oakland in Northern California. But first, NPR's Ayesha Rascoe on how President Biden is trying to convince Americans his new trillion-dollar infrastructure bill is going to give consumers some relief.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: President Biden kicked off his sales pitch in Baltimore talking to longshoremen at the port.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: At one point, you're going to be mad at me because there'll be so much work, you'll say, oh, God, why do I got to...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Never enough

BIDEN: Never enough.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Never enough.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah, we would not be mad at that.

RASCOE: He's promising more jobs and busier ports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: You're going to get a lot more. I promise you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Bring it.

RASCOE: He says the $1 trillion infrastructure deal will make a world of difference. It will boost investments in roads, bridges and broadband.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: I'm going to create good-paying union jobs - union. Not good - not $12 an hour, not $15 an hour - $45 bucks an hour and up, with good benefits, so you can raise a family on and build the middle class out.

RASCOE: Biden also argues that the law will help the U.S. catch up to China, a top priority for the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Put us on a path to win the economic competition of the 21st century we face with China and the rest of the world. China's outspending us on research and development. China's outspending; all these other countries are as well.

RASCOE: While Biden was selling the plan, he couldn't escape some bad economic news. Inflation is surging. Consumer prices are up 6.2% from last year, the sharpest increase in 31 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Everything from a gallon of gas to a loaf of bread costs more, and it's worrisome.

RASCOE: Supplies have not been able to keep up with demand, and it's hard to run factories during a pandemic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: When you go to order a pair of sneakers or a bicycle or Christmas presents for the family, you're met with higher prices and long delays, or they say they just don't have any at all.

RASCOE: It's a huge political problem for Biden, but it's not clear how much he can do. Still, he's promising to work on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: And we're tracking these issues, you know, trying to figure out how to tackle them head on.

RASCOE: The rest of Biden's agenda hangs in the balance, including that $1.75 trillion plan to invest in child care, climate and other priorities. Already, some key lawmakers are raising concerns about government spending at this time, and elections are around the corner, so addressing inflation is another promise Biden will need to keep.

Ayesha Rascoe, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.