By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Senator Pat Toomey on Monday blasted President Joe Biden for what he called the increasing and "irresponsible" use of a Cold War-era defense law to boost production of baby food, solar panel components and other non-defense items.
Toomey, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, told Biden that using the Defense Production Act in this way disrupted supply chains and violated the intent of the law to make goods available in actual national security emergencies.
"If your administration continues to abuse the DPA and skirt legitimate questions surrounding its use, Congress may have to curtail the executive branch’s ability to so easily invoke it," Toomey wrote in a letter obtained by Reuters.
Democrats now control the Senate, but unexpected losses in the November midterms could give Republicans more power to curb use of the DPA.
Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, invoked the DPA in 2019 to stockpile rare earths, the specialized minerals used to make magnets found in weaponry and EVs, and then again in March 2020 to order General Motors to produce life-saving ventilators.
Biden has made broader use of the DPA in his presidency, including using it to ramp up production of supplies used in the response to COVID-19, infant formula and solar panel components. The 1950 law gives the Pentagon wide powers to procure equipment necessary for national defense.
The White House had no immediate comment.
Toomey said Biden had waived a requirement to notify the Senate Banking Committee, which oversees the law, prior to any DPA expenditures, on six separate occasions since March, and expressed concern he was using the law to advance a partisan agenda.
He said a future Republican president could decide the DPA is a convenient means for funding construction of a border wall or finishing a long-stalled natural gas pipeline, even though these projects were not related to the defense-industrial base.
Toomey asked Biden to answer a series of detailed questions about the administration's reasons for invoking the law by Oct. 11.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Nick Macfie)