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

Bonnie Cash

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and labor leaders on Thursday ramped up calls for President Trump 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.”

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.

Their remarks came the same day that the entire New Jersey congressional delegation including Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker and Reps. Donald Norcross (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 Schatz (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.

Tags Bob Menendez Brian Schatz Chris Murphy Coronavirus Cory Booker Donald Norcross Donald Trump Masks medical supplies New Jersey ventilators
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