Editorials, Opinion

Bipartisanship in the House? Is this a trick or a treat?

A bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support — including with bipartisan sponsorship — and all three of West Virginia’s representatives voted in favor it.

Is this a trick or a treat?

The Strengthening America’s Strategic National Stockpile Act (HR 3635) was first introduced by Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., and Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., later signed on as a cosponsor. The Strategic National Stockpile, as described by the Department of Health and Human Services, is part of “federal medical response infrastructure and can supplement medical countermeasures needed by states, tribal nations, territories and the largest metropolitan areas during public health emergencies. The supplies, medicines and devices for lifesaving care contained in the stockpile can be used as a short-term, stopgap buffer when the immediate supply of these materials may not be available or sufficient.” Think personal protective equipment, ventilators, vaccines and medications.

If this is ringing a bell, it’s because the SNS was a frequent topic of conversation at the start of the pandemic. In March 2020, the former president repeatedly claimed he had received an “empty shelf” from the previous administration. The SNS was nowhere near “empty,” but it was not enough to singlehandedly combat the rapidly surging COVID-19 pandemic, and there were arguments over how and how much to distribute the SNS’s supplies to states.

HR 3635 lays out guidelines for maintaining the SNS and distributing products to states and localities through September 2024. Arguably, the three most important aspects of the bill are the requirements to replenish the stockpile (whatever gets taken out should be replaced in equal measure), maintain the stockpile (regular maintenance on equipment, not distributing expired products) and “enhance medical supply chain elasticity and establish and maintain domestic reserves of critical medical supplies.”

McKinley said, “This legislation will not only make America more secure and prepared for future emergencies, it will bolster American manufacturing and create good jobs.”

HR 3635 does address one major supply chain issue. At the start of the pandemic, America’s health care systems faced a massive shortage, because most of the supplies and equipment providers needed came from China. With international travel and trade shut down to slow the transmission of the coronavirus, many health care workers were left empty-handed.

Now HR 3635 needs to be replicated on a larger scale. The medical supply shortage is fresh in our minds because of the pandemic, but the similar shortages are impacting a variety of industries, most of them for the same reason: Nearly everything in America comes from somewhere else.

If there can be a bipartisan agreement to boost domestic manufacturing of medical supplies, surely another can be made to boost domestic manufacturing across the spectrum. No one can argue that the pandemic has highlighted the ways outsourcing has injured America, and no one can deny that, even in a global economy, the U.S. needs to be self-reliant when it comes to the essentials. The key will be to strike a balance between corporate profit and living wages for workers.