Democrats are scrambling to address a baby formula shortage, as Republicans add it to their election-year criticisms of the Biden administration.
Top House Democrats discussed the issue in closed-door meetings Wednesday morning. Hours later, Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) announced the Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight panel will hold a May 25 hearing on it, and Pallone said he’ll also meet with the Food and Drug Administration “to try to determine what they can do better.”
“We’re looking to see if we need to have legislation, have a hearing, and see what can be done to increase the amount of formula available,” he told reporters.
The scant supply of infant formula is a result of supply chain backlogs and a recall of several powdered infant formulas from Abbott Laboratories. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called the shortage “a real problem and we’re hearing from a lot of people on this.”
Hoyer said he spoke to Pallone and several other House leaders on the issue, including Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).
“I expect all of them to be looking at, what’s the deal here with baby formula?” he told reporters. “Why is there such a shortage? What happened? What did the FDA do or not do?”
A list of witnesses for the Energy and Commerce hearing hasn’t been announced, but a committee spokesperson said the hearing will only be productive if lawmakers hear directly from the FDA and Abbott.
The Biden administration has also made formula availability a “top priority,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, who’s about to take over as White House Press Secretary.
“This is an urgent issue that the FDA, as you all know, and the White House is working 24/7 to address,” she said. “They are committed to pulling every lever and already are making progress in getting more supply onto the market.”
The FDA laid out steps it’s taking Tuesday, including expediting reviews and easing import processes.
Abbott issued a statement Wednesday that they can resume production at a site they had shut down within two weeks with FDA approval.
“From the time we restart the site, it will take six to eight weeks before product is available on shelves,” the company said.
House Republican leadership on Wednesday sought to use the shortfall as a cudgel against Democrats.
During a weekly press conference, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) called it “an embarrassment,” and Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said addressing the shortage should have superseded the Senate’s push for a doomed vote to codify the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
“They’re spending more time focusing on that than they are focusing on the supply chain crisis when it comes to baby formula, which is a crisis hurting babies and families across this country,” Stefanik said at the press conference.
Stefanik and Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa), who are both mothers, sent a letter to the FDA saying the shortage was “yet another example of how this Administration’s supply chain crisis is harming working families.”
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