Why Governors Want Help From Trump Getting Medical Supplies — And Why He Is Refusing

Ventilators, portable X-ray devices, COVID-19 test reagents, masks and gowns ― all are in short supply in at least some parts of the U.S. 

State officials and health system administrators across the country are struggling to provide the equipment they need to treat COVID-19 patients.

In Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker said he has even been on the phone personally with manufacturers, only to be told by one CEO that he may have to wait for the supplies he needs. It’s not because the company wasn’t manufacturing them, but because they could sell them to a foreign customer first at a higher price. Pritzker said he was advised to place a larger order so that his order would be higher on the priority list.

The federal government could enact the Defense Production Act, but Trump has resisted, insisting that the private sector are stepping up on their own.

The law gives the president a set of narrow but powerful tools for organizing and increasing the production of goods necessary to address a national crisis.

The act would provide authority for the federal government to make purchases, or offer loan guarantees for purchasers, in order to create a demand for goods that manufacturers might not otherwise produce. This is precisely the sort of financial commitment that many experts have said would give industry incentive to ramp up production of the medical equipment in such short supply right now.  Trump could issue a declaration that certain goods are essential, which would give these federal contracts priority over other orders. This is what Pritzker needed when dealing with the CEO who would not give him priority for ventilators.

Last week Trump announced that he was invoking the law, in apparent defiance of the lobbying from business. But “invoking the law” means nothing if the president doesn’t actually use the authority or direct federal agencies to do so. 

Trump on Monday said he was reluctant to use the act to obtain medical supplies because “we’re a country not based on nationalizing our business. Call a person over in Venezuela. Ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out. Not too well. The concept of nationalizing our business is not a good concept.”

Meanwhile, governors are not only competing against foreign buyers, they are competing against each other.

“I will contract with a company for 1,000 masks,” Cuomo said on Sunday. “They will call back 20 minutes later and say the price just went up because they had a better offer and I understand that. Other states who are desperate for these goods literally offer more money than we were paying. And it is just a race that is raising prices higher and higher. We even have hospitals competing against other hospitals.”

Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) have a Senate bill instructing Trump to use the law. The House also has a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who says that acting on the law is not nationalizing industry. He says the companies would remain private, but be instructed by the federal government to supply necessary goods desperately needed.

For now, Trump insists governors should keep hunting for equipment on their own because the federal government is not a “shipping clerk.”

See this story in its completion at Huffington Post.