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Biden says Jo-Ann stores CFO who passed away yesterday ‘dropped dead’

President Joe Biden tore into shipping conglomerates at the White House Thursday as he signed legislation he said would improve inflation at least on the margins.

He ripped the industry of consolidated foreign-flagged vessels a day after tearing into oil companies, and once again laying much of the blame for inflation at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s feet.

But he began his remarks at the White House with words of condolence for one of the people there, the head of Ohio-based specialty retailer Jo-Ann Stores. The company is still coping with the news from Wednesday that its chief financial officer, Matt Susz, died suddenly.

‘And by the way, my sympathies to your family of your CFO, who dropped dead very unexpectedly,’ said Biden, who is known to console people like himself who have lost loved ones and has flown to multiple funerals even as president.  

‘My best to their family. It’s tough stuff,’ said Biden. 

President Joe Biden speaks before signing the Ocean Shipping Reform Act in the State Dining Room of the White House, Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Washington. He offered to a CFO who 'dropped dead' at the top of his remarks

President Joe Biden speaks before signing the Ocean Shipping Reform Act in the State Dining Room of the White House, Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Washington. He offered to a CFO who ‘dropped dead’ at the top of his remarks

He made the remarks at an event where he accused shipping companies of ‘sticking it to American families and businesses.’ He blasted them for price hikes that ‘hurt American families,’ and said an industry controlled by nine major companies enjoyed $190 billion in profits in 2021 amid supply chain disruptions. 

He signed legislation Thursday meant to make shipping goods across oceans cheaper – a move the White House says will help lower retailer costs that have remained high since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and helped fuel record inflation.

Biden joked about the overwhelming vote for it in the House, and the bill facing no objection in the Senate. ‘I hardly remember those days. I served there for 36 years,’ he said, to chuckles.

Biden accused the shipping industry of ripping off consumers

Biden accused the shipping industry of ripping off consumers

The Ocean Shipping Reform Act passed unanimously by the Senate via voice vote in March after winning bipartisan House support. It empowers the Federal Maritime Commission to investigate late fees charged by carriers while prohibiting ocean carriers and marine terminals from refusing to fill available cargo space.

Joann stores CFO Matt Susz died suddenly on Wednesday

Joann stores CFO Matt Susz died suddenly on Wednesday

The president also stressed that a concentration of corporate shipping power in the hands of just nine, large and foreign-owned companies has fed higher shipping costs in ways that hurt businesses and exacerbate problems with inflation.

‘These carriers made $190 billion in profit in 2021, seven times higher than the year before,’ Biden said. ‘The cost got passed on, as you might guess, directly to consumers, sticking it to American families and businesses because they could.’

He added that the new law would ‘bring down prices to give American families a bit more breathing room.’

The Federal Reserve this week raised its key interest rate by three-quarters of a point, the largest bump since 1994, after data released last week showed U.S. inflation rose in May to a four-decade high of 8.6%.

Vincent Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, laughs with President Joe Biden as he introduces Biden to speak during an event in the State Dining Room of the White House, Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Washington

Vincent Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, laughs with President Joe Biden as he introduces Biden to speak during an event in the State Dining Room of the White House, Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Washington

President Joe Biden speaks before signing the Ocean Shipping Reform Act in the State Dining Room of the White House, Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Washington. He accused shipping companies of 'sticking it to American families and businesses'

President Joe Biden speaks before signing the Ocean Shipping Reform Act in the State Dining Room of the White House, Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Washington. He accused shipping companies of ‘sticking it to American families and businesses’

‘People know that prices are too high and we have to do something. And this was one of the obvious culprits,’ said Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who cosponsored the law with South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune. ‘There´s a lot of things, but this was pretty glaring.’

Klobuchar, who attended the law signing at the White House, said U.S. exporters saw their prices to access shipping containers increase by at least four times during the past two years of the pandemic.

The new measures should prompt shippers to quickly lower costs, Klobuchar said. But if not, lawmakers could take further steps – including examining antitrust exemptions.

‘If I were them, I would take great heed at the unanimous vote in the Senate, the strong vote in the House, that we could act very soon if they don’t start being fair,’ Klobuchar said. ‘If they keep their prices so high and don’t respond to the needs in our country, I think you will see legislation, more legislation, in the mix.’

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