A bill intended to alleviate port blockages and open the door to a crackdown on ocean carriers passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Thursday, a sign of the priority lawmakers are putting on addressing supply chain disruptions that have plagued agriculture and other sectors. 

The House, which earlier passed its own version of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, will have to approve the Senate version as is or else the two chambers will have to negotiate a compromise version. A co-sponsor of the House version told Agri-Pulse the bill's backers may seek to modify the Senate measure. 

Senate approval of the bill followed a week of negotiations and two “hotlines” of the bill to gauge concerns of senators and shore up needed votes. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaking with Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., behind him, said after passage the bill would “directly give relief to small businesses and consumers alike.”

“Thankfully, this bill will make it harder for ocean carriers to unreasonably refuse American ports and our goods while strengthening the Federal Maritime Commission’s ability to step in and prevent harmful practices by carriers,” Schumer said. “This bipartisan shipping bill is exactly the sort of thing the Senate should focus on.”

OSRA was cosponsored in the Senate by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and John Thune, R-S.D.

“Congestion at ports and increased shipping costs pose unique challenges for U.S. exporters, who have seen the price of shipping containers increase four-fold in just two years, raising costs for consumers and hurting our businesses. Meanwhile, ocean carriers that are mostly foreign-owned have reported record profits. This legislation will help American exporters get their goods to market in a timely manner for a fair price,” Klobuchar said. 

Thune said the measure "would level the playing field for American farmers, exporters, and consumers by making it harder for ocean carriers to unreasonably refuse goods that are ready to export at U.S. ports. Especially with record inflation in prices of goods, this legislation would also benefit consumers by promoting the fluidity and efficiency of the supply chain.”

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The Senate version is significantly less prescriptive than the House version, lacking a mandate requiring carriers to take American goods or the imposition of minimum service standard requirements on carriers – both of which are included in the House version. 

The Senate instead delegates rulemaking authority to the Federal Maritime Commission, which would have one year to create new rules for carriers. The FMC would get a significant boost in authority in both bills. 

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., who co-sponsored OSRA in the House, told Agri-Pulse Thursday some House members may want provisions from their bill included in a final version. 

“Leaders on this bill in the House feel strongly that a couple of provisions in the House version that are not in the Senate version really do need to be reinserted,” Johnson said. “But these are still very similar vehicles, that would have a pretty substantial improvement on the supply chain system long term.”

But Johnson said he’s confident the bill will make it across the finish line, despite the differences. 

“This bill has such broad bipartisan and bicameral support. Even the sniping of DC isn't going to be able to lay this low in all likelihood,” Johnson said. “I still believe there's a well north of 80% chance that we're going to get this across the end zone or into the end zone here in the relative short term."

The Agriculture Transportation Coalition issued a statement saying it "strongly supports" the Senate bill. 

We look forward to a prompt conference with the House, so that a final bill can be sent to the President’s desk as soon as possible. US agriculture is depending upon it.” the group said.