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VIEWPOINT: How I’m bringing Democrats and Republicans together to fix our broken supply chains

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Four years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down life as we knew it.

U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester talks about the Promoting Resilient Supply Chains Act to instruct the Department of Commerce to lead a supply chain resilience effort.

U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester

Parents were desperately scrambling to find baby formula as grocery shelves went bare. Millions of hardworking Americans were suddenly out of their steady, good-paying jobs. And when we needed it the most, personal protective equipment was practically impossible to find. As a member of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, I was made acutely aware of these challenges when it came to drug shortages prior to the pandemic.

However, the disruptions we saw during the pandemic were unprecedented and challenged consumers and businesses alike. It exposed how fragile and reliant our economy is to the complex web of people, materials, organizations, technology, and activities needed to create a product – otherwise referred to as supply chains.

Supply chain disruptions were so severe they accounted for 60% of pandemic inflation. Inflation worldwide saw a historic increase because of pressures on our supply chain systems. Strained supply chains meant higher production costs, which meant higher consumer costs. Ultimately, a weak supply chain could have been the difference between whether a family could put food on the table, a resilient economy, and our ability to protect our national security.

This is why addressing these challenges has been a priority for me and doing it in a bipartisan way is a necessity.

In March, I brought Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Analysis, Grant T. Harris, and other key leaders in Delaware’s life science sector together for a roundtable on supply chains. What we discussed was simple: supply chain disruptions affect everyone, whether we realize it or not. Without addressing this issue, shocks in the life sciences sector, in particular, can have serious ramifications on our health and wellness. Overarching supply chain disruptions have the potential to threaten our great biosciences industry. Disruptions can stifle medical advancements and our capacity to create life-saving medications, conduct clinical trials efficiently, or even cause production delays that prevent temperature-sensitive drugs from being delivered on time.

Delaware has a robust bioscience sector that supports 11,000 jobs and the state has become a thriving hotspot for businesses in both the life and biosciences sectors. From our pharmaceutical companies to our cutting-edge research in biotech to our manufacturing companies producing medical devices and equipment, the First State is uniquely positioned in the health care systems’ web of supply chains for the region and our nation.

Since coming to Congress, I have been focused on ensuring Delaware families can stay healthy and have good-paying jobs all while keeping our local economy strong. Making our supply chains more resilient will help us achieve all these goals.I’ve traveled up and down our state and heard from Delawareans about how supply chain disruptions were impacting them. I visited a distillery in Smyrna that couldn’t procure glass bottles. I met with a family-owned car dealership with only a few cars on their lot and a manufacturer in Newark that makes life-saving mammography machines both impacted by the shortage of microchips. And at every meeting, the same question kept coming up: “How did we not see this coming?” I went back to Washington and urgently began working on putting our supply chain concerns front and center.

I worked across the aisle for more than two years — when Democrats were in the majority and minority — for a solution. In December of last year, after months of negotiations, I introduced the bipartisan Promoting Resilient Supply Chains Act with Dr. Larry Bucshon, a Republican from Indiana, to instruct the Department of Commerce to lead a supply chain resilience effort. For the first time, our bill would ensure the federal government has a dedicated agency official overseeing supply chain systems and identifying solutions to the challenges we face through mapping and monitoring shocks before they occur. The legislation passed overwhelmingly out of the House by a vote of 390-19 and garnered the support of over 160 organizations spanning a variety of industries – from Chambers of Commerce to labor unions.

After years of advocacy, I was pleased to see that my bill not only passed the House, but the Senate companion bill was recently introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). This effort is bipartisan and bicameral — a testament to Congress’ unity on getting this bill across the finish line.

Early supply chains were simple, local, and easily manageable. As our infrastructure, technology, and consumer needs have evolved and become more global, supply chain networks have become more complex than ever. Supply chain resiliency is now integral for all businesses, government, and consumers, making its influence on our economy and day-to-day life unavoidable. For instance, the creation of the COVID-19 vaccine was accelerated through global partnerships that required multiple supply chains: from vaccine research to trials, to production, and distribution.

Congress has a chance to make supply chains more agile than ever. By doing so, we will not only improve innovation, efficiency, and quality of our health care, but we can increase American competitiveness, make more products here at home, create good-paying jobs, and strengthen our economy. For Delaware, this is a chance to stay at the cutting edge of the biosciences industry and continue driving breakthroughs in medicine and research. For everyday Americans, it’s a chance to prevent the disruptions that the pandemic caused and lower costs.

My bill is a step in the right direction, and I won’t stop until it’s signed into law.

Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) is the U.S. Representative for Delaware. 

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