Editor’s note: We endeavor to bring you the top voices on current events representing a range of perspectives. Below is a column arguing that President Joe Biden has misused the Defense Production Act. You can find a counterpoint here, where Charles Kolb argues that Biden’s usage of the act is in line with what other presidents have done.
Here’s a crash course on the Defense Production Act (DPA) for the current commander-in-chief — who, evidently, has never familiarized himself with the national defense infrastructure of the United States. F-22s don’t achieve supercruise speeds with batteries. Marines aren’t issued baby formula in their MREs. And Nimitz-class aircraft carriers don’t rip through the waves at 30 knots powered by solar panels.
So why is the president trying to use a statute enacted to hastily convert non-lethal industry capacity to meet the military and naval demands of the Korean War — and then renewed multiple times to meet similar national defense purposes — for obviously non-defense production? The answer is simple: partisan politics.
First is the most obvious attempt to slow the ongoing electoral slide that the president’s party is experiencing going into the midterm elections: reversing the baby formula shortage. But this shortage was the result of what appears to be a dysfunctional Biden administration regulator.
According to press accounts, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis, Michigan, powdered baby formula plant a passing inspection in September 2021 after no evidence of harmful bacteria was uncovered. Subsequently, it was discovered that four infants were fed Abbott’s baby formula and fell ill to infection from a rare bacteria. Tragically, two of those babies died. As a result, Abbott recalled several lots of the powder in February 2022, the FDA returned for another investigation, and Abbott was ordered to shut down operations at the plant. However, bacteria samples acquired as result of this inspection did not match the strains found in samples received from two of the sick infants.
So was the prolonged shutdown of the plant necessary? Was the earlier September 2021 inspection conducted properly? We don’t know the answers to these questions — and likely never will. But like bodies falling from an ascending C-17 fleeing Kabul airport, this is another debacle which the Biden administration and its media allies seem to feel doesn’t warrant further scrutiny.
To further obfuscate all of this, we have the Defense Production Act. But the DPA doesn’t provide for the manufacture of baby formula. And no language in the Act can be construed — even in a tortured sense — to suggest it does. However, the Act does give authority to a president to intercede in production processes conducted by non-government organizations.
So does this mean that future presidents will operate under the precedent that any mishandling of a politically sensitive issue by some arm of a bona fide incompetent administration will find its solution in the DPA? Or will this precedent only be exercised in the specific instance of the most recent in a string of policy blunders that portend the imminent demise of a Congressional majority of the commander-in-chief’s party?
Speaking of the reliance of the DPA to make up for political malpractice, President Biden drew from a similar precedent when he invoked the Act to tip the energy policy scales in favor of one of the darlings of the neo-pantheists — solar power. The president invoked the DPA to increase production of solar panels used relatively little by warfighters who overwhelmingly rely on energy-dense sources such as diesel and jet fuel as well as nuclear power. He did this because he failed to garner sufficient congressional support for his so-called “Build Back Better” agenda, which had billions in federal incentives to prop up the solar energy industry. Lest you think this is somehow a revelation understood only by those invited to sit in dimly lit and smoke-filled rooms, The Atlantic has a recent piece titled “Biden’s Climate Goals Rest on a 71-Year-Old Defense Law” with the prefatory statement, “The Defense Production Act has become an important tool as the White House’s climate policy has stalled in Congress.”
The precedent President Biden drew from to assist the solar industry progeny of the scandal-ridden Solyndra years of the Obama-Biden administration was his earlier invocation of the DPA to aid the battery industry. Batteries, like solar panels, have their place on the battlefield. But that place is relatively limited, and those applications receive attention every year during Congress’ deliberation on and reauthorization of the National Defense Authorization Act.
It may be that if this administration continues to entangle the United States in a war between two former Soviet socialist republics, he may be forced to legitimately invoke the DPA. But doing so only for the transparently parochial benefit of his partisans diminishes his office and the genuine national security concerns of the United States.
John Hostettler is Vice President of Federal Affairs, States Trust at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He previously served six terms in the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 2007 where he was a member of the National Security and later the Armed Services Committees during his entire tenure.