Lawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act

Lawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act
© Bonnie Cash

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day Congress eyes changes to small business pandemic aid Top Democrat to introduce bill to limit Trump's ability to fire IGs MORE (D-Conn.) and labor leaders on Thursday ramped up calls for President TrumpDonald John TrumpMulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus Former CBS News president: Most major cable news outlets 'unrelentingly liberal' in 'fear and loathing' of Trump An old man like me should be made more vulnerable to death by COVID-19 MORE to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) to manufacture critical medical supplies in the coronavirus fight.

The push comes as states and municipalities have reported shortages of equipment and devices such as ventilators, masks and gowns.

“The problem is, that the private sector supply chain has broken down. It has just simply broken down,” Murphy said on a call with reporters. “It is a ‘Lord of the Flies’ scenario today in which supply is not heading to areas of need, but is instead heading to places where the money is or where the political connections exist.”

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Murphy said companies incentivize “hoarding and price gouging” and that the federal government must step in.

The DPA allows the president to pivot manufacturing in the private sector to fill shortcomings of medical equipment needed to battle the pandemic.

Trump has rejected such calls, arguing the DPA gives the government too much power over the private sector. Instead, he said companies are voluntarily providing the necessary supplies.

But some critics disagree, saying the federal government needs to assert its authority.

“There should be a nationally coordinated response that is inventorying the need of every hospital, nursing home and homecare setting in this nation, matching it with the stockpile and then insisting on ramping up production to meet the hundreds of millions of needs that we have for masks, gowns and respirators,” Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said on the call with Murphy.

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Their remarks came the same day that the entire New Jersey congressional delegation including Democratic Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate panel approves Trump nominee under investigation Hillicon Valley: Trump threatens Michigan, Nevada over mail-in voting | Officials call for broadband expansion during pandemic | Democrats call for investigation into Uber-Grubhub deal Senate chairman schedules vote on Trump nominee under investigation MORE and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerStakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Booker introduces bill to create 'DemocracyCorps' for elections MORE and Reps. Donald NorcrossDonald W. NorcrossNY, NJ lawmakers call for more aid to help fight coronavirus Lawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins MORE (D) and Jefferson Van Drew (R) urged Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to use his delegated authority under the DPA.

“In our home state of New Jersey, the need is particularly acute. New Jersey has the second highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the country, and our supply of respirators, eye protection, face masks, and other protective gear is rapidly decreasing,” the lawmakers wrote. “In some regions of New Jersey, healthcare providers estimate that their supplies will run out in a matter of days based on current usage levels – usage which is predicted to dramatically increase in the coming days and weeks.”

New Jersey has more than 4,402 cases of coronavirus, leading to more than 60 deaths.

“Healthcare providers and first responders are our first and best line of defense against COVID-19,” the delegation wrote. “We cannot afford to risk running out of [personal protective equipment]; the lives of providers, responders, and the public depend on it.”

Murphy and Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats slam Trump for threatening to hold Michigan funds Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections Coronavirus drives record number of complaints to consumer bureau MORE (D-Hawaii) have introduced the Medical Supply Chain Emergency Act, which would require Trump to use his DPA powers to boost emergency production in the private sector. The bill calls for 500 million masks, 200,000 ventilators, 20 million face shields, 500 million pairs of gloves and 20 million surgical gowns.

“It is time to federalize the national, critical medical supply chain,” Murphy said Thursday.