Yesterday, Donald Trump signed the Defense Production Act as a back-up measure, in case of a breakdown in production of critical supplies. “”Hopefully there will be no need,” Trump later tweeted, “but we are all in this TOGETHER!” The measure is in place only for “a worst case scenario in the future.”
This morning, Nancy Pelosi and fifty-six other House Democrats said that the worst case scenario is already upon us. In a statement released to the media this morning, Pelosi demanded that Trump take control over domestic production to address shortages in the first weeks of the coronavirus pandemic:
Trump said yesterday that he was only invoking the Defense Production Act so he could use it later in a worst-case scenario.
Pelosi is urging him to use it now. pic.twitter.com/DCi5SsSfCz
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) March 19, 2020
What precisely is Pelosi demanding? ABC News outlined the parameters of the DPA, and it’s basically authority to impose a wartime command economy:
The executive branch, under this law, can essentially dictate industry production and force companies to sign contracts telling them how to allocate materials.
The president can also impose wage and price controls, settle labor disputes and control consumer and real estate credit, among other authorities given by the law.
The DPA was passed during the Korean War in 1950, and it has been used sporadically since then.
“It was based on lessons learned by the U.S. in the early days of World War II when massive mobilization of industrial resources and control of raw materials was required,” said Steve Ganyard, an ABC News contributor and former deputy assistant secretary of state.
It’s a very broad and nearly dictatorial power, one that should truly be a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency authority. Are we there yet? We are facing momentary shortages in some critical items, including masks and ventilators, as well as hospital space for an expected wave of seriously ill Americans. However, we only just identified those gaps, and thus far we have no real evidence that we can’t fix those through normal economic incentives, such as premiums for production and delivery.
In fact, US automakers are already offering to shift production to medical equipment to meet those gaps:
Rosie the Ventilator Maker? General Motors Corp. Chairman and CEO reportedly suggested to top White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow, the automaker could build hospital ventilators while its plants are idled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking on Fox News Wednesday, Kudlow said he spoke with executives from two of the three Detroit-based automakers, then apparently alluded to Barra when he explained, “one of them told me even while the men and women may be off for two weeks due to the virus she’s gonna try to call them back so they can produce ventilators and they might even ask them to do it on a voluntary basis for civic and patriotic reasons.”
GM spokesman Pat Morrissey confirmed to Forbes that Kudlow was referring to Barra explaining, “still very early, but she did tell the administration it was something we were exploring….still very early in the process, but she indicated we could help, and we were beginning to look into it.”
General Electric, one of the main sources of ventilators, has already begun expanding its existing production, as well as stepping up on other medical lines:
GE on Thursday said its healthcare unit is expanding its manufacturing capacity in order to roll out not only more ventilators, but also more patient monitors, CTs, ultra sound devices, and mobile X-ray systems.
GE’s announcement comes with federal and state governments scrambling to buy more medical equipment to deal with a growing surge of seriously ill coronavirus patients, with rising concerns that ventilator capacity could fall short as the crisis deepens.
“To help address this global challenge, we have increased our manufacturing capacity and output of equipment … while also taking steps to ensure safe operations for our employees,” said Kieran Murphy, president and CEO of GE Healthcare.
In order to boost ventilator production, GE has added manufacturing lines and now has shifts working around-the-clock to produce this vital piece of medical equipment. The Boston-based company said it is also hiring additional manufacturing workers and shifting employees from other units to help out as well.
The best way to get fast production of these necessities is to let the manufacturers proceed as unhindered as possible. We are not actually fighting a war, after all, and access to raw materials is unchanged except to the extent that sick personnel slows it down. Only in an extremity of resources, labor, and distribution should a president be given command-economy authority, and we are not there yet. We are not even close to being there.
Finally, this is a rather ironic demand coming from the same politicians who just spent the last several months warning that a failed impeachment would allow Trump to become a dictator. Now they’re complaining because he’s not using dictatorial powers fast enough.