The Freedom Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives has pressed the federal government to seek money from shipping companies that may be liable for the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse before spending taxpayer dollars on a replacement.

But the group’s member from Maryland, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, said Thursday that he believes it’s OK for the government to “front the money” for a new Key Bridge, while working to be paid back by any liable parties.

“There’s consensus that it’s reasonable for the federal government to rebuild the bridge,” Harris, an Eastern Shore Republican, said in a call with reporters. “The question is how it’s paid for. … We do believe that all efforts to recoup the costs of the cleanup and replacement of the bridge should be borne by the foreign companies that chartered and owned the vessel that ran into the bridge.”

With just a few exceptions, he said, “I think the House will agree and Congress will agree the federal government can keep the project moving.”

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The companies affiliated with the Dali cargo ship that crashed into the bridge on March 26 have access to billions of dollars to cover their liabilities, Harris said.

“They have more available than the highest estimates for the replacement cost of this bridge are,” he said.

The House Freedom Caucus issued a statement on April 5 urging the government to “seek maximum liability from the foreign shipping companies upfront” before Congress votes for bridge replacement funding.

Harris said the government should move with all due haste on the bridge reconstruction, and reiterated the Freedom Caucus’ call to streamline environmental and other approvals for the project.

“This bridge is going to be built in the same place as the old bridge,” he said. “Nothing new will be affected by this.”

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The push to get Congress on board with President Joe Biden’s promise that the federal government will fully fund the new bridge continues.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore continued his press for funding on Thursday, meeting with members of Congress from both parties on Capitol Hill. Earlier in the week, he had a strategy meeting with the Maryland delegation.

Maryland lawmakers introduced legislation on Thursday that will absolve Maryland from cost-share requirements — typically 10% — for transportation projects. It’s called the Baltimore BRIDGE Act: Bridge Response Invests and Delivers Global Economic Relief Act.

Moore said he’s optimistic about the likelihood that Congress will come through for Maryland.

“We have found a receptive audience because people realize what happened ... is not just about Baltimore and it’s not just about Maryland,” Moore said Thursday morning during a Washington Post Live event.

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Moore said officials have a template to follow: The 2007 collapse of a highway bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. In that case, Moore said, a Democratic-led House and Democratic-led Senate sped legislation and funding to a Republican president’s desk.

“I love the fact that we have a precedent of people putting politics to the side in times of crisis. There’s a precedent of remembering who it is impacted,” he said.

Moore, a Democrat, predicted bipartisan support for the bridge on Capitol Hill. He noted that his meeting earlier in the week was bipartisan, including political polar opposites Rep. Jamie Raskin and Harris.

“Hardly ever do I get to stand with those two individuals together,” Moore joked at the Washington Post Live event.

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County.

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