Biden, baby formula and the perils of protectionism | EDITORIAL

An employee walks near empty shelves where baby formula would normally be located at a CVS in N ...

The first lady staged a photo-op Wednesday to assure American families that the Biden administration is working tirelessly to solve the baby formula shortage that it created.

“I’m here to say to you parents that you aren’t alone at the highest levels of Joe’s administration,” first lady Jill Biden said on the tarmac of Dulles International Airport in Virginia, where she welcomed a FedEx plane carrying 100,000 pounds of formula imported from Germany. “He and his team understand what you’re going through and they are finding solutions.”

At least Ms. Biden didn’t say that the shortage was “transitory.”

In fact, President Joe Biden has been a veritable font of empathy lately — he feels your pain when it comes to soaring gasoline prices, a Carter-era inflation rate, rising urban crime, a busted supply chain, a looming recession … and now vast empty spaces on store shelves where the baby formula used to be.

As usual, Mr. Biden accepts little responsibility. Instead, we are to believe that his administration is an innocent bystander, helplessly buffeted by robust gales generated by the currents of unforeseeable events. In fact, the opposite is true, and the baby formula fiasco is instructive as to this White House’s utter failure to identify and head off looming crises.

It has been seven months since the FDA was alerted to potential unsanitary conditions at an Abbott Laboratories plant that produces infant formula. It took the agency more than 10 weeks to look into the matter, which resulted in Abbott issuing a recall and temporarily shutting down the plant.

That left plenty of time for Mr. Biden and his team to unveil a plan to mitigate shortages. Thanks to regulatory hurdles and tariffs that protect the domestic industry, the United States relies heavily on two American producers to supply baby formula. “Common sense suggests,” William Galston of The Wall Street Journal noted this week, “that when you abruptly remove a fifth of supply from the market, shortages are inevitable.”

Yet here was the president this month when pressed by a reporter about his administration’s leisurely response to the empty shelves: “If we’d been better mind readers, I guess we could have (acted faster), but we moved as quickly as the problem became apparent to us.”

The formula shortage stands as a reminder to the drawbacks of protectionism. But there’s another problem: Mr. Biden and his team haven’t seen anything coming. Not the Afghanistan debacle, not the border influx, not inflation, not high energy costs and not the formula shortage. It’s doubtful, though, that they’ll credibly be able to trot out that same excuse for the shellacking they’ve earned in November.