The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nearly 200 Republicans vote against bill to ease baby formula shortage

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) on July 27, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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House GOP leaders were among the 192 Republicans who voted against providing $28 million in aid to the Food and Drug Administration to address the shortage of baby formula — within days of criticizing President Biden for not doing enough on the issue.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) voted late Wednesday against the measure to provide new FDA funding, which the House approved on a largely party-line vote of 231 to 192. Twelve Republicans broke ranks and joined with Democrats in backing the money.

On a separate bill, the House voted Wednesday overwhelmingly to ease the burden on low-income parents by allowing the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program — a major national purchaser of formula — to source it from more foreign suppliers. The vote was 414 to 9 with all the opposition coming from Republicans. The Senate approved the legislation Thursday by voice vote. It now heads to Biden, who will sign it into law.

In recent days, Republicans have assailed Biden and the administration about the nationwide shortage that has forced parents to scramble to find formula to feed their infants. On Wednesday, Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to address the issue, tapping a Korean War-era law to ramp up domestic manufacturing rapidly.

Biden invokes Defense Production Act to boost baby formula supply

During Wednesday’s floor debate and in recent days, House Republicans have described the Democratic bill providing money to the FDA as unnecessary, arguing that it would do little to solve the root of the problem.

“Instead of working with Republicans to find bipartisan solutions to address the issue, Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi dropped this legislation yesterday in hopes of covering up the administration’s ineptitude by throwing additional money at the FDA with no plan to actually fix the problem, all while failing to hold the FDA accountable,” Scalise said in a notice urging Republican lawmakers to vote against the measure.

Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.) criticized the bill as insufficiently bipartisan and called for existing federal funds to be spent on the issue.

“We had the opportunity to work across the aisle on a bipartisan solution to this crisis. Unfortunately, the text we’re considering today has not been agreed to by both sides,” she said during Wednesday’s House debate.

At a news conference last week, Stefanik, the third-ranking House Republican, cast the issue in personal terms.

“As a new mother, I understand personally the severity of this challenge,” said Stefanik, whose son was born in August. She said she and other GOP lawmakers were pushing “for action from the FDA and the Biden administration, who should have had a plan for this shortage months ago. Instead, Bare Shelves Biden has continued to pass the buck.”

The shortage has been blamed on ongoing supply chain disruptions linked to the coronavirus pandemic and manufacturer Abbott issuing a recall for products made at a Michigan plant and sold under the Similac, Alimentum and EleCare labels. Four children — one in Minnesota, one in Texas and two in Ohio — fell ill with bacterial infections after being fed the products, and two died.

U.S. manufacturer Abbott recalled baby formula in February following reports that four infants fell ill with bacterial infections. (Video: Reuters)

Stefanik, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and other House Republican women introduced a competing measure Wednesday called the “Babies Need More Formula Now Act” aimed at making it easier for American parents to obtain formula from abroad.

“Joe Biden’s failed leadership is responsible for America’s baby formula crisis,” Stefanik said in a tweet Wednesday.

Rep. Stephanie I. Bice (R-Okla.) said she voted against the FDA bill because there was “no reason” to give the agency additional money.

“You can’t throw money at this problem,” she said. “This is a failure of leadership within the FDA as well as the administration’s failure to act, and so throwing, you know, millions of dollars at the problem isn’t going to actually fix it.”

The lawmaker argued that none of the additional funding would address the biggest problem: getting formula to families.

“This is about families and how they’re struggling to meet the needs of infants, and we need to be focused on that specifically,” she said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that the 192 Republicans who opposed the bill are the latest example of the party’s unwillingness to address the issues that matter most to Americans.

“We see a baby formula as something that’s at the kitchen table,” she said in her weekly news conference. “So, we think from the standpoint of the kitchen table, that there is no comparison” between Democrats and Republicans.

“I mean, they don’t even vote for domestic terrorism,” Pelosi added in reference to Republicans’ overwhelming opposition to a bill Wednesday night aimed at curbing homegrown violent extremism. “It’s nuts.”

Other Democrats criticized the GOP after the vote.

“If Republicans had it their way the formula shortage would continue so they could cynically exploit recalls for political gain and racial divide,” said Chris Taylor, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Democrats worked to deliver solutions, but when given the opportunity to solve problems Republicans abandoned the American people.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) questioned the motivations and commitment to problem-solving of the GOP.

“Republicans aren’t interested in solutions. They’re interested in theater and chaos,” he tweeted Wednesday. “House Democrats offered a baby formula solution to help your family. Almost every House GOP member voted against it.”