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Democrats ask Biden to appoint staffer to oversee baby formula shortage

Sen. Patty Murray, the chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania led 30 Democrats in sending a letter to Biden urging him to hire someone who can implement a national strategy to deal with the supply chain issues.

“We urge you to immediately assign a coordinator within the White House to work with manufacturers directly and oversee the development and implementation of a national strategy,” they wrote in the letter, which was first reported by NBC News.

The Democrats added: “We need organized leadership and a clear plan for addressing this crisis. We cannot stop working on this issue until babies are fed.”

This comes a day after Biden invoked the Defense Production Act following calls from lawmakers to do so in response to the nationwide formula shortage. This will require suppliers to direct resources to infant formula manufacturers “before any other customer who may have ordered that good” to help boost supply. Officials have cautioned that invoking this isn’t a “magic wand” and won’t increase supply instantly.

The Biden administration has faced growing questions and criticism, including from Democrats, for a national formula shortage that has anxious and angry parents hopping from store to store in search of baby food.

The House also passed a pair of bills, led by Democrats, on Wednesday aimed at addressing the shortage. One of the bills passed by the House Wednesday evening would provide $28 million in emergency funding for the US Food and Drug Administration in an effort to help alleviate the current shortfall and head off future shortages.

The other bill is aimed at ensuring that families in need can continue to buy baby formula with WIC benefits during a public health emergency or supply chain issues such as a product recall. WIC refers to the federal assistance program known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

Questions over not invoking DPA sooner

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, dodged Thursday when asked if Biden should have invoked the Defense Production Act sooner.

“I can tell you, we’re trying to balance the safety of the product and the availability of the product,” he told CNN. “Whether others can step in and produce the needed formula that meets all the safety standards is real, important question.”

He added: “It’s a tough challenge in terms of making sure that safe formula is available for all American infants.”

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut was much more forceful.

“I urged repeatedly use of the Defense Production Act, I regret that it took a few days and maybe longer to do it. But now it ought to be used robustly,” he told CNN.

Asked if the Senate should leave town next week if they haven’t acted on the House-passed supplemental for baby formula, Blumenthal said, “I think we’re going to act on infant formula. And if we don’t, maybe we should stay here. It is a crisis that demands are being on duty.”

CNN’s Manu Raju and Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.

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