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The price tag for the Francis Scott Key disaster

Washington is in the very early stages of its response to the Francis Scott Key Bridge disaster in Baltimore. There are a lot of conversations going on — between the Biden administration and Capitol Hill, between Capitol Hill and Annapolis and between the Biden administration and state and local officials in Maryland.

Absolutely nothing has been decided upon thus far. This is a point we cannot underline enough. Not even all the victims of the disaster have been recovered at this point.

But we’ve spoken with the players involved in this effort. And the broad outlines of what will need to be done are becoming clear.

Let’s start here: The effort to rebuild the bridge will be very pricey — several billion dollars, according to estimates we’ve heard from Annapolis, the Hill and the White House. Several sources estimated that the administration is going to ask Congress for more than $1 billion to respond to the crisis. Again, this assessment is still in the earliest stages and nothing has been decided upon yet.

The Department of Transportation made $60 million from the Federal Highway Administration’s “‘quick release’ Emergency Relief (ER) funds” available to Maryland officials on Thursday.

But Baltimore has a lot of needs right now, as we pointed out in the Midday edition Thursday. The Dali is still in the Patapsco River, clogging up the shipping channel for the Port of Baltimore. Once the Dali — nearly 1,000 feet long and weighing more than 150,000 tons when fully loaded — is gone from the site, salvage workers can begin removing bridge debris from the blocked channel.

But moving the Dali may take days or even weeks, several sources cautioned. Experts are trying to make sure the Dali doesn’t sink or capsize, potentially adding to the disaster.

The Port of Baltimore is going to be hit hard economically. Sources told us that the payroll for the roughly 8,000 workers at the port is more than $2 million per day. If the port is shuttered for several months, as is likely, that could be upwards of $100 million in economic losses.

So the package that the Biden administration eventually asks Congress for may want to address this. The Maryland legislature is looking into this issue as well.

What you’ll hear a lot of in the coming days is that the closure of the Baltimore port isn’t just a Maryland problem — it’s a national problem. Red states will get hit too. Huge amounts of coal, wood, construction machinery, steel and aluminum flow in and out of the port. Baltimore is critical for car imports, furniture and home appliances too. The longer the port is offline, the bigger the problem will be.

The full Maryland delegation — including Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) — vowed to work together to seek federal funding to deal with the disaster:

Also, remember that President Joe Biden submitted a domestic supplemental spending request in October and Congress never acted on it. Whatever the Biden administration submits to Congress this time around may include some of these priorities.

This could include the Affordable Connectivity Program. The ACP, which provides discounted wireless internet for low-income families and households, is winding down as funding runs out. There’s a hunger on Capitol Hill to renew the program, but there hasn’t been a vehicle on which it could ride. The House Problem Solvers Caucus backed a bill which extended the ACP in a statement Thursday. So this has some legs.

In short, this is going to become a must-pass bill and everyone’s going to want to get their pet projects in it. You may see Republicans demanding something on energy or border security in this package.

— Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan

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