The Morning Jolt

Economy & Business

Empty Shelves Disprove Biden’s Supply-Chain Boasts

Bread aisle shelves at a Target are seen nearly empty as the U.S. continues to experience supply chain disruptions in Washington, D.C., January 9, 2022. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

On the menu today: A bit before Christmas, President Biden boasted that he had averted the supply-chain crisis: “The much-predicted crisis didn’t occur. Packages are moving. Gifts are being delivered. Shelves are not empty.” And White House chief of staff Ron Klain called the supply-chain crisis “an overhyped narrative.” But if you look at the local affiliates of the major networks, you can find a ton of stories about empty store shelves in the past week. Maybe the hashtag #BareShelvesBiden is being promoted by conservatives, but that doesn’t mean the supply-chain crisis is mythical.

The Supply-Chain Crisis Never Went Away

Just because the national media stop paying attention to a problem doesn’t mean that problem goes away. Unless you are professionally required to keep track of supply-chain issues, you probably haven’t heard much about that crisis since people finished their Christmas shopping. Back on December 22, White House chief of staff Ron Klain shared a New York Times article and declared that supply-chain problems were “an over-hyped narrative.”

In fact, also on that day, President Biden declared that the supply-chain crisis had been solved: “Earlier this fall, we heard a lot of dire warnings about supply chain problems leading to a crisis around the holidays, so we acted. . . . We brought together business and labor leaders to solve problems. And much — you know, the much-predicted crisis didn’t occur. Packages are moving. Gifts are being delivered. Shelves are not empty.”

And yet, you may have noticed that your local store shelves still aren’t restocked to their usual levels, or you may well be finding empty shelves.

From the Richmond, Va., ABC affiliate:

It could be a dry January for some people, whether they were planning on it or not as Virginia ABC stores around the state are still struggling to fill shelves. At the ABC store at Stonebridge Plaza in Chesterfield, customers found row after row of empty shelves. Tawni Schilling, a shopper at the store, said her favorite spirits have been out of stock since November.

From the Atlanta CBS affiliate:

It’s a sight that greets many going for their weekly grocery shop, empty store shelves.

“It’s just random things, things I just wouldn’t even think of. Today there was no potatoes, not a lot of meat,” said a father shopping at Kroger.

With the holidays over, many told CBS46 they thought things might look a little better, but still empty shelves persist.

CBS46 reporter Jamie Kennedy checked out Publix, which was nearly depleted of toilet paper and salad mixes.

Over at Kroger, certain vegetables and kids’ juice were mainly out of stock.

From the Portland, Ore., CBS affiliate:

If you went grocery shopping over the weekend, there’s a good chance you noticed some shelves looking pretty bare. . . . Empty shelves were seen around at least two different Fred Meyer stores in Oregon this weekend, along with signs posted that read, ‘Severe weather has caused shipping issues, these items are temporarily out of stock.’ Eggs, yogurt and milk were just a few of the items in short supply.

From the Knoxville, Tenn., CBS affiliate:

Thomas Goldsby researches shortages, like this one, for the University of Tennessee. As a supply chain management expert, he said every category is getting affected, not just cereal or other products. ‘We’ve been pretty hampered by cold weather and snow, but also those tornadoes that struck back in December have limited our ability to meet our needs too,’ said Goldsby. . . . The Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association President, Rob Ikard, said it’s been a tough couple of weeks.

Near Daytona Beach, Fla.:

From sports drinks to cereal and cat food, many common staples are increasingly missing from grocery store shelves in Volusia County, a reflection of continuing supply chain issues tied to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

From KHOU in Houston: “People across the Houston area seem to be having the same problem. They’re running into near-empty cold and flu medicine shelves at local pharmacies.”

It’s a similar story in Dallas:

If you find yourself fighting a cold or cough in coming days, be prepared to drive to several stores to find common over-the-counter remedies. Spot checks of eight Walmart, Target, Walgreens, CVS and Sam’s Club locations in northeast Dallas on Monday found some with empty shelves while others had fast-going supplies.

You can find similar stories from Honolulu; Cape Cod and Watertown, Mass.; and in Washington state, although those empty shelves are more directly connected to bad weather disrupting transportation.

And it’s not just groceries.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Pandemic-related factory closures, transportation delays and port-capacity limits have stymied the flow of many goods and materials critical for home building, including windows, garage doors, appliances and paint.

In Springfield, Mo.:

Hammer’s Autoworks vice president of operations Aaron Bruton says it’s starting with manufacturers not being able to get materials. Then, it trickles down to staffing shortages at the production level.

“Once-in-a-lifetime delays on pretty much everything we order,” Bruton says. “It doesn’t matter what make or model car. We’re seeing parts that we would normally see in four to five days take upwards of two to three months sometimes.”

No doubt, bad weather can slow shipments and block roads, exacerbating the supply-chain crisis. But in some places, there’s something of a vicious cycle, in that supply-chain problems are exacerbating the ability to respond to bad weather. In Orange, Mass.:

The town’s superintendent of highway, cemeteries and parks informed the Selectboard last week that snow removal equipment malfunctions could be detrimental this winter because supply chain issues caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic are making it difficult to acquire parts.

Colin Killay said he wanted to speak with the Selectboard and make sure members understand this could be a difficult season for town roadways due to a massive backorder of air filters, oil filters and parts for trucks, sanders and snowplows. His fleet consists of about 15 vehicles.

“We could be parking equipment for the remainder of the winter” if anything breaks down,” Killay said. “This could, conceivably, be a major issue.”

In Hardin County, Texas:

“We are facing a shortage of CDL drivers due to the nationwide shortage and COVID,” Deputy Judge-Executive Daniel London said in the release. “Making the situation more challenging, we ordered six new replacement dump trucks, which haven’t yet been delivered due to the nationwide supply chain constraints. We ask for patience and understanding as we push through the snow event.”

When you add up all of these reports, it seems like a lot of genuine and glaring problems for the White House chief of staff to dismiss as just “an overhyped narrative”!

It’s not hard to find Biden defenders who insist that the Twitter hashtag “#BareShelvesBiden” is “artificially amplified by far-right users to manipulate the trending section.” Fine, maybe they are, but consumers and local news affiliates aren’t hallucinating these empty shelves, and businesses aren’t imagining this inability to get the supplies and parts they need.

I guarantee you that when this newsletter is shared on Twitter, some ninny will respond that he just went to Safeway or Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods and didn’t see any shortages — as if the complaint about the supply chain was a contention that every shelf on every store in every community was bare. No, the problem is that an unpredictable mix of goods are suddenly unavailable, with little sense of when new shipments will arrive. Sometimes this problem has minor consequences — getting straight fries instead of curly fries — and sometimes there are huge consequences, such as oncologists who are struggling to get more medications and other medical supplies.

As with the border, inflation, the Afghanistan withdrawal, Covid-19, and the shortage of tests, we have to waste time convincing the administration that the country’s problems are actually real problems; the Biden team’s reflexive instinct is that any reports of problems are just right-wing propaganda. (Or perhaps someone like Klain will tell us to be appreciative because we have “high class problems.”)

Surprise! Biden Didn’t Mean Anything He Said Back Then

Senator Joe Biden, offering a lengthy and impassioned defense of the filibuster in 2005:

I think this is the single-most significant vote any one of us will cast in my 32 years in the Senate, and I suspect the senator would agree with that. And we should make no mistake. This nuclear option is ultimately an example of the arrogance of power. It is a fundamental power grab by the majority party propelled by its extreme right and designed to change the reading of the Constitution, particularly as it relates to individual rights and property rights. It’s nothing more or nothing less. . . .

We’ve been through these periods before in American history, but never to the best of my knowledge has any party been so bold as to fundamentally attempt to change the structure of this body. . . . What shortsightedness and what a price history will exact on those who support this radical move.

This is the single-most significant vote, as I said earlier, that I will have cast in my 32 years in the Senate.

Why try it now, for the first time in history, to eliminate extended debate? Well, because they control every lever of the federal government. That’s the very reason why we have the rule. So when one party, when one interest controls all levers of government, one man or one woman can stand on the floor of the Senate and resist, if need be, the passions of the moment.

Put simply, the nuclear option would transform the Senate from the so-called “cooling saucer” our Founding Fathers talked about to cool the passions of the day to a pure majoritarian body, like a parliament.

We’ve heard a lot in recent weeks about the rights of the majority and of obstructionism. But the Senate is not meant to be a place of pure majoritarianism.

At its core, the filibuster’s not about stopping a nominee or a bill. It’s about compromise and moderation. That’s why the Founders put unlimited debate in. . . . It doesn’t mean I get my way. It means you may have to compromise. You may have to see my side of the argument. That’s what it’s about. Engendering compromise and moderation.

Ladies and gentlemen, the nuclear option extinguishes the power of independence and moderates in this Senate. That’s it. They’re done. Moderates are important only if you need to get 60 votes to satisfy cloture. They are much less important if you need only 50 votes.

President Biden, July 2021:

“There’s no reason to protect [the filibuster] other than you’re going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done,” he said at a CNN Town Hall in Cincinnati. “Nothing at all will get done.”

The New York Times, this morning:

Biden will not go so far as to call for full-scale elimination of the filibuster, a Senate tradition that allows the minority party to kill legislation that fails to garner 60 votes, according to a senior administration official who previewed the speech. But Mr. Biden will say he supports a filibuster ‘carve-out’ in the case of voting rights, the official said.

ADDENDUM: Turkmenistan president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov — no, I did not make that up, nor did I make a typo — wants to close and extinguish the seemingly eternal fires at the Darvaza Crater, the country’s biggest tourist attraction, nicknamed the Gates of Hell.

Perhaps he read Between Two Scorpions and is concerned about the site attracting ancient demon-worshipping cults who disguise themselves as Islamist terrorist groups.

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