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Trump must use authority to prevent gouging, protect Americans

In an emergency, such as both President Trump and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have declared, the rules change. That is why Cuomo is correct and the president needs to use his power under the Defense Production Act to help all states secure the materials and equipment they need at a reasonable cost. Today, no state – and no country, for that matter – needs this help more than New York.

Because of the dense concentration of Covid-19 infections downstate, New York has become the global ground zero of this crisis. The state now accounts for about 5% of the world’s infections, with most of the cases occurring downstate.

At his Sunday press conference, Cuomo – a national leader in the fight against this pandemic – underscored the problems that New York is facing and that Trump could alleviate. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, should be prominent in the effort to persuade Trump to act.

The problem New York and other states are facing is the soaring prices of essential gear, from surgical masks and gowns to ventilators. Because of the shortages and competition among states for what they can get, costs are skyrocketing. Masks that used to cost 85 cents are now going for at $7, partly because desperate states are bidding the prices higher. And there still aren’t enough.

By invoking the power he has under the Defense Production Act, Trump can order factories to produce the badly needed materials, alleviating the shortages and keeping the costs under control. The federal government can also identify who needs what and direct those supplies appropriately. Make no mistake: Both actions will save lives. Failure to act will surely cost them.

Trump is refusing to use his authority on the grounds that “nationalizing” industries won’t work. Under normal circumstances, he would be correct. Under normal circumstances, competition within the private sector would work to the nation’s benefit. Perhaps, given enough time, it would today.

But these aren’t normal circumstances and we don’t have time. The virus is spreading exponentially. Masks, gowns and ventilators are needed now. People are getting sick now; some are dying now.

The president’s reluctance to move on this recalls an incident during the Great Depression when Harry Hopkins, an aide to President Franklin Roosevelt, responded to information that, while it would take time, over the long term, food would be available to those who could no longer afford it. “Yes,” Hopkins said, “but people don’t eat in the long term.” The president needs to act now.

Many governors and some Republicans in Congress are pushing for the president to use this authority, but Trump doesn’t seem to be listening. Reed and other New York Republicans need to make that happen.

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