KINGSPORT — Congresswoman Diana Harshbarger’s luncheon in Kingsport on Monday included more than just full plates of Food City ham, carrots, potatoes and desserts — it also featured hearty portions of topics such as supply chain issues and vaccine mandates.
The luncheon — hosted by the Greeneville County Partnership, the Johnson City Chamber and the Kingsport Chamber — centered around the congresswoman’s take on recent issues, namely recent shipping delays.
Kingsport City Schools Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse voiced his concern over supply chain issues.
The system, he said, looks to reroof Dobyns-Bennett High School through its Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.
“You don’t know when the materials will come or what the expense will be added to that because things are still sitting in the shipping containers,” Harshbarger said. “We don’t have a shipping container shortage. They are stacked on the ships. They’re all full. There’s a shortage of truckers. It’s chaos … . We are working on that.”
The other issue in the supply chain, she said, is the ongoing labor shortage that has impacted each sector of American business. At the event, Harshbarger asked local business leaders to raise a hand if they need employees. Well over half of the room’s attendees raised a hand.
“The labor shortage is falling right into the delays in the supply chain,” Harshbarger said. “If you think we’ve got problems with supply chains, it’s going to get worse with some of the mandates coming down.”
While the labor force shrinks, inflation grows.
Inflation has hit a 31-year high, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Prices have increased by 6.2% over the past year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and by 0.9% between September and October of 2021 alone.
“Thanksgiving is going to be the most expensive Thanksgiving in history,” Harshbarger said. “Is anybody paying more for gas lately? It’s up 64% because we have to buy it from Russia or OPEC … . We’ve got some problems.”
Harshbarger also spoke on the country’s need for infrastructure, saying, “We need infrastructure but we don’t want it to the demise of our grandchildren’s grandchildren.”
Brince Manning, the manager of the Southeastern Region for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also spoke at the Monday luncheon. Manning said the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that became law last Monday pays $387 billion for highways and bridges, $96 billion for transit, $66 billion for rail, $65 billion for broadband, $54 billion per energy grid infrastructure and $48 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure.
“This is all stuff the U.S. Chamber has been fighting for for decades. We were years and years overdue on infrastructure. This is the biggest piece of legislation for that since the Eisenhower interstate bill. We are on board with that.”
One business leader at the luncheon also asked Harshbarger her thoughts on OSHA’s mandate requiring employers with 100 or more employees to have a fully vaccinated staff.
“I think it’s unconstitutional,” Harshbarger said. “It’s unscientific and it’s overreach. OSHA was formed in Congress to take care of safety programs for the workplace. It never was meant to mandate vaccines and that’s a problem. If they think they have a shortage in workers now, you just wait. It’s an infringement upon your freedoms. It’s your individual right (to make health decisions). The government should not mandate that.
“There’s a lot of questions I’ve got and I’m not getting a lot of answers. But you know what? You keep asking. You keep probing.”