Senate Poised to Pass $195 Billion Bill to Bolster Competitiveness With China

WASHINGTON – The Senate was on the verge of passing an expansive bill on Thursday to lead research and development into scientific innovation and fuel the first major government foray into industrial policy in decades to strengthen competitiveness with China.

Driven by growing fears from members of both parties that the United States will lose its lead over China and other authoritarian governments that have invested heavily in developing cutting-edge technologies, the measure would put around $ 195 billion in research in a wide variety of areas Flow sectors, including manufacturing and semiconductor industries.

The widespread support for the move reflected the bipartisan urgency to act amid a pandemic that has exposed Beijing’s bottleneck in critical supply chains, including a global semiconductor shortage that has shut down American auto factories and slowed consumer electronics shipments.

“If we don’t improve our game now, we will fall behind the rest of the world,” said New York Senator Chuck Schumer, majority leader and author of the bill. “That is what this legislation is ultimately about. Raise the ship. We invest in science and technology so that we can over-innovate, over-produce, and compete in the industries of the future, some of which we know and some of which we don’t know. “

The move, the result of a collaboration between Mr. Schumer and Indiana Republican Senator Todd Young, came together when a series of political changes produced a rare moment of consensus on the issue.

Mr Schumer, one of the Democratic Party’s fiercest China hawks in decades, was personally determined to use his new status as majority leader to enforce laws against Beijing. And a growing number of Republicans, led by former President Donald J. Trump, have put aside their party’s ancient orthodoxy against government interference in the economy and embraced the idea of ​​aggressive measures to help American companies compete with an emerging rival.

The legislation would prop up the struggling semiconductor industry by providing emergency funding for a $ 52 billion subsidy program while pouring hundreds of billions more into American scientific research and development pipelines, creating new grants, and agreements between private companies and research universities promotes to promote these breakthroughs in new technology.

However, it was unclear whether the bill – the popularity of which made it a magnet for industry lobbyists and legislators’ priorities for pets – could achieve its ambitious goals. A frenzied round of haggling watered down the legislation and reduced the amount of money for a concentrated center for research and development on new technologies from $ 100 billion to $ 29 billion. Instead, lawmakers have shifted much of that funding to the National Science Foundation’s traditional mission of basic research and laboratories in the Energy Department, rather than the new technology initiative.

The move was also weighed down by parish projects launched to gain broader support, including a new round of funding for NASA with terms likely to benefit Jeff Bezos’ space venture, a ban on the sale of shark fins, and a mandate for Identification of the country of origin for king crabs. At around 11:00 p.m. on Wednesday evening, the Senate added, with almost no debate, a section that would double the budget of the Agency for Advanced Defense Research Projects, a Pentagon research agency.

Hours before the legislation was due to be passed, the Senators were still drafting key components, such as a major trade measure that would re-approve an obsolete provision allowing the temporary suspension of tariffs on certain products imported into the United States. It would also direct the United States sales agent to negotiate forced labor and critical minerals agreements.

Mr Young, who made no secret of his disappointment over some changes to the measure at a recent hearing, said in an interview Thursday that the legislation is still “a significant increase in the funds we will see for applied research. ”

“We will be able to serve as a force multiplier in our efforts to counter China’s evil influence and activities,” he said.

Even so, partisan clashes plagued the legislation at the last minute after the Republicans. Fearing they would not have another chance to pass laws related to China, they urged Democrats to include more of their proposals.

At a closed lunch on Wednesday, Republicans tried to convince their colleagues to delay the passage of the bill. Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana argued that the process should be slowed down and nudged Mr. Schumer: The majority leader was moving as fast as if “walking around like a five-year-old in a Batman costume on Halloween,” Mr. Kennedy said by two people familiar with his remarks.

The Democrats had voted on more than a dozen Republican amendments, but a filibuster’s threat to block the legislation sparked one final round of closed-door haggling when leaders put out a 15-minute procedural vote for four hours.

Strong Republican support for the bill – particularly related to the decision to send $ 52 billion to chipmakers and fund a program created by Congress last year – was a paradigm shift in the party as Chinese hawks soar in Congress increasingly federal interventions in support of American manufacturing supported.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio went to the Senate ahead of the vote, praising the results “the government and business partnership to resolve an urgent crisis of national concern” had produced during the pandemic, citing the rapid development of Vaccines.

“When it comes to research and development technology, this is perhaps the greatest requirement that lies ahead of us,” he said. “The 21st century is determined by this contest between China and the United States, and it is a contest that we simply cannot win if we do not step forward and achieve it.”

Mr Rubio tried on Thursday to add stricter counter-espionage measures to the law, warning that it would be pointless to spend billions of dollars on research “if we allowed the Chinese to steal it”. However, this move did not earn the 60 votes required to be added to the bill.

To connect manufacturing centers and research universities in the United States, the legislation would allocate $ 10 billion to create regional technology centers to strengthen public-private partnerships and support emerging researchers and other workers.

“America’s technology-based economy needs all kinds of skilled workers, and the EFA will make sure we have them,” said the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, a group that campaigned for the law, in a statement using the acronym for the Endless Frontier Act.

The bill also contains a foreign policy roadmap for future engagement in China. She called on the Biden government to sanction those responsible for forced labor practices in and around Xinjiang and the Chinese government’s campaign against systematic rape and forced sterilization against the Uighur minorities in the region.

Approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this piece of legislation includes measures to combat intellectual property violations and calls for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

Emily Cochrane and Nicholas Fandos report.

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