Senate Democrats Unveil New PPE Bill As Biden Calls for American-made Stockpiles

By Cathalijne Adams
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As lawmakers look to acquire more PPE, they should also take advantage of the opportunity to grow domestic manufacturing and better prepare the country for the next crisis.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) joined Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Wednesday to unveil legislation to increase the production of critical personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as improve the transparency and distribution of stockpiled medical supplies.

The Protect Our Heroes Act of 2020 would authorize $10 billion for the acquisition of PPE, including N-95 masks and nitrile gloves, to replenish the strategic national stockpile.

It’s a commendable goal, given that so many of our nation’s healthcare workers and others on the frontlines are still facing shortages of critical PPE. With COVID-19 cases are rising dramatically, it is likely that the problem will get worse before it gets better.

But as the legislation moves forward, we hope that lawmakers will also take steps to ensure that the PPE acquired for the national stockpile is manufactured in the United States. Without guarantees that federal money will be awarded to domestic manufacturers for the bill’s PPE contracts, for example, U.S. taxpayer dollars may well be granted to offshore factories instead.

This would only further exacerbate our nation’s current struggle to ramp up domestic manufacturing capacity, and will be a missed opportunity to strengthen critical manufacturing and supply chains. (Remember, too, that our PPE market is already rife with shadowy suppliers.)   

The good news is that there is incoming support to do the job right.

Making sure our PPE is made in the United States is a goal put forth by President-elect Joe Biden, who repeatedly has called for strengthening domestic supply chains for medical and pharmaceutical manufacturing, including in his plan to combat COVID-19.

Just on Monday, Biden reiterated that stance in a speech he gave on the economy:

“From autos to our stockpiles, we are going to buy America. No government contract will be given to companies that don’t make their products in America.”

Crucially, Biden’s approach acknowledges that the federal government has a decisive role to play in ensuring sufficient PPE supplies in the short term, as well as the long term, identifying the growth of U.S. manufacturing as an essential part of his COVID-19 plan.

It’s a critical moment. If America does not expand our domestic manufacturing capacity, we risk exposing ourselves to further shortages during this pandemic or future emergencies.

As expert testimony Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation highlighted, the U.S. remains heavily dependent on China for life-saving medical goods and pharmaceuticals, posing acute national security and public health vulnerabilities. The U.S. cannot allow foreign nations to maintain this leverage, particularly during one of our darkest chapters in history.

The Protect Our Heroes Act of 2020 represents part of the action that America so desperately needs to see now as we enter the deadliest period of the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a leadership vacuum during this crisis for far too long, and our heroes need protection.

Now we have an opportunity to make things right. As the United States looks to replenish our national stockpile, let’s also take steps to shore up domestic manufacturing, which will help ensure that the country is better positioned to respond to the next crisis, no matter when or where it hits.