Josh Hawley Thinks the White House Can Force an Aluminum Plant To Stay Open
In response to the news that an aluminum smelting plant in southern Missouri will soon close, Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) has asked—nay, demanded—that President Joe Biden use his powers to keep the plant open.
“I urge you to take the appropriate actions necessary to keep the smelter open, to ensure the continuity of operations, and to preserve production jobs—including by deploying the authorities of the Defense Production Act of 1950,” Hawley wrote in a letter to the White House this week. “Doing so will preserve good-paying union jobs and safeguard national security.”
The modern presidency has tremendous powers, of course, but this is still quite the stretch. Hawley is asking the White House to engage in central planning at an absurdly micro-level—and there is, thankfully, no law that actually allows the president to order a factory to continue producing aluminum if its owners have decided to stop.
Even so, the fact that Hawley is even making this request illustrates something important about how Republicans now view the relationship between government and business. It also says something about how the failures of protectionism will spur calls for more protectionism. And, finally, about how the phrase “national security” has become warped beyond recognition to justify further governmental intrusions into the economy.
But let’s start with the Defense Production Act, which allows presidents to expedite governmental purchases of certain materials viewed as critical to national defense. Though it had been rarely used before the COVID-19 pandemic, it has recently become a favorite tool of would-be economic authoritarians on both sides of the aisle, and some lawmakers now seem to believe there are virtually no limits to how it can be used. Democrats have asked Biden to use it to promote green energy projects, and Biden has already invoked it to “accelerate domestic production” of solar panels under the questionable notion that solar panels are “essential to the national defense.” Even home insulation is now the subject of a Defense Production Act order, because it is somehow critical to defending America from a foreign invasion—of cold air, one assumes, likely a nefarious plot by those shifty Canadians.
The act was also invoked during the baby formula shortage of 2022, as if a government-created problem could be solved by the White House simply demanding that more formula be brought into existence. That’s how economies work, right?
It might shock Hawley and some of his colleagues to learn that the Defense Production Act is not a set of magic words that allow presidents to do whatever they’d like. In fact, all the law does is require that businesses fulfill orders from the government before other orders from private customers.
That’s because it is a law meant to be used during wartime. Here’s how it works: Let’s say there’s a war going on and the U.S. military desperately needs 10,000 widgets to ensure victory, lasting peace, and blah blah bla
Article from Reason.com
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