Friction is already emerging in Congress over call for full funding of Baltimore’s bridge

Two days after Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse, signs of friction — or outright reluctance — are emerging among some lawmakers about using new federal dollars to rebuild it, even as President Joe Biden implores Congress to fully fund the recovery.

“It was kind of outrageous immediately for Biden to express in this tragedy the idea that he’s going to use federal funds to pay for the entirety,” Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.) told Fox Business on Thursday. “This is a crisis situation, but it needs a plan, not a knee-jerk spend reaction.”

The Pennsylvania Republican suggested that instead of spending new money for reconstruction of the bridge, lawmakers pull cash from the “ridiculous” electric vehicle deployment program that Congress voted to create earlier in Biden’s administration.

Several other lawmakers from both parties appeared hesitant on Thursday about Congress approving rebuilding money until insurance and shipping companies pay the costs they’re responsible for stemming from the tragic collision of a freighter with the bridge. Six workers are presumed dead in connection with the accident; the total bill for rebuilding is likely to be billions of dollars.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), for one, said he would support federal funding to rebuild the bridge — with the “caveat” that the company behind the freighter needs to pay out any required damages.

“We shouldn’t be spending taxpayers’ money if the insurance company has a responsibility,” Grassley said.

That’s also the message from Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), a senior member of the House’s transportation committee and the former insurance commissioner of California.

“I don’t think it has to be federal taxpayer money,” he told Bloomberg TV in an interview. “Let’s first go to the insurance side of it and then we’ll see what’s left over.”

Garamendi added that environmental concerns ought to be “secondary — or maybe not even considered” as Maryland seeks to rebuild the bridge as quickly as possible.

Biden said in the aftermath of the disaster that he intended for the federal government “pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge and I expect the Congress to support my effort.” However, congressional leaders have been quiet so far on their plans concerning the rebuild, as they await firm cost estimates of the money that must be appropriated for it.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told reporters on Thursday that a cost estimate for rebuilding the bridge and reopening the Port of Baltimore was underway.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg confirmed Wednesday during a White House press conference that the Biden administration could tap into some emergency funds in the short term but called it “likely” that lawmakers would be asked “to help top up those funds” as the project advances.

Congress has acted swiftly to provide emergency funds after previous major bridge collapses, though many supporters of aid for Baltimore concede that the Hill’s current dysfunction will make that task far more difficult than it was in 2007 — when lawmakers took mere days to approve money for the rebuilding of a Minnesota bridge.

“This is a very different Congress right now. It’s very partisan,” Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) said on CNN Thursday. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to do something.”

Meredith Lee Hill contributed.