To Counter Trump Inaction, Sanders-Khanna Bill Would Unleash $75 Billion for Emergency Manufacture of PPE, Covid-19 Testing

U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation Monday to fund the purchase and manufacturing of medical equipment, as healthcare providers continue to report shortages while they fight the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

To Counter Trump Inaction, Sanders-Khanna Bill Would Unleash $75 Billion for Emergency Manufacture of PPE, Covid-19 Testing

"It's been three months, but somehow the Trump administration continues to drag its feet in ramping up the production of critical testing and protective equipment that our health care providers are begging for."

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna on Monday introduced legislation to ensure healthcare providers have enough medical equipment and Covid-19 tests, demanding that the federal government dramatically step up its response to the coronavirus pandemic rather than focusing on getting people back to work as soon as possible.

The Emergency Medical Supplies Procurement Act would dedicate $75 billion to the effort, allowing the government to purchase or manufacture supplies including N-95 respirators, surgical gowns, ventilators, testing kits, and other badly-needed medical equipment as well as vaccines and treatments for Covid-19.

The progressive lawmakers introduced the legislation three days after President Donald Trump moved to fire Health and Human Services deputy inspector general Christi Grimm over her report last month about supply shortages at hundreds of medical centers across the country.

"The United States is the richest country in the world. There is no excuse for our medical professionals and essential workers not to have the masks, gloves, gowns and tests they need to keep safe, treat their patients and stop the spread of this deadly pandemic," said Sanders.

According to Sanders and Khanna, the U.S. currently is testing between 100,000 and 200,000 people per day for the coronavirus--while public health experts recommend testing 500,000 to one million people per day before the country considers ending social distancing orders which have forced millions to stay mainly at home for more than a month.

Despite warnings from public health officials, more than half of U.S. states partially reopened their economies in recent days--even as the country saw its highest single-day death toll from Covid-19.

In order to produce the number of tests needed to track the outbreak and the equipment needed to protect healthcare providers and save patients' lives, Khanna and Sanders said, the federal government must be compelled to invoke the Defense Production Act specifically for that purpose.

"Congress must explicitly authorize that the Defense Production Act (DPA) is fully utilized to demand that the private sector manufacture the equipment and products that our medical personnel, patients, and frontline workers desperately need," said Sanders.

The U.S. Congress authorized $1 billion for the production of protective equipment and other hospital necessities--a figure which "pales in comparison to the amount of supplies needed to protect frontline healthcare workers and increase testing capacity," said Khanna and Sanders in a statement.

"It's been three months, but somehow the Trump administration continues to drag its feet in ramping up the production of critical testing and protective equipment that our health care providers are begging for," said Khanna. "Testing is the key to safely restarting our economy and this bill provides the federal government with the resources and directives that will get us where we need to be."

Trump has invoked the DPA only to direct specific companies to manufacture PPE and ventilators, and last week he used the law to compel meat processing plants to stay open during the pandemic, putting thousands of workers at risk in workplaces where social distancing is difficult if not impossible.

Under the Emergency Medical Supplies Procurement Act, the administration would be required to respond promptly requests from states in need of healthcare supplies. With states relying on the Strategic National Stockpile for equipment--and then going directly to manufacturers as that supply dwindled--state governments have been forced into a bidding war over desperately-needed products.

"States and cities should not be forced to bid against each other for scarce and overpriced medical equipment," said Sanders.

The legislation would also include strict oversight and accountability provisions to avoid the misuse of the funding, after other federal programs responding to the pandemic, including the Paycheck Protection Program, were beset with the misappropriation of funds.

"We're also including safeguards to ensure no member of the Trump family or administration gets a dime of recovery funding," tweeted Khanna, two weeks after the president's business, the Trump Organization, sought rent relief due to the pandemic.

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