The Senate Passes A Bill To Encourage Tech Competition, Especially With China : NPR

NY Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the US had to invest in science as it did after World War II. Susan Walsh / AP Hide caption

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Susan Walsh / AP

NY Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the US had to invest in science as it did after World War II.

Susan Walsh / AP

WASHINGTON – The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill on Tuesday aimed at boosting U.S. semiconductor production and the development of artificial intelligence and other technologies in the face of growing international competition, particularly from China.

The 68-32 votes for the bill show that the economic confrontation with China is an issue that unites both parties in Congress. That’s a rarity in an era of division as pressure mounts on Democrats to change Senate rules to break the Republican opposition and the deadlock.

At the heart of the bill is an emergency allocation of $ 50 billion to the Department of Commerce to support the development and manufacture of semiconductors through research and incentive programs previously approved by Congress. The total cost of the bill would add about $ 250 billion to spending, with most of the spending occurring in the first five years.

Proponents cited it as the largest investment in scientific research the country has seen in decades. This is because the country’s share of semiconductor manufacturing worldwide has steadily declined from 37% in 1990 to around 12% today, and a chip shortage has exposed weaknesses in the US supply chain.

“The premise is simple: if we want American workers and American businesses to continue to be at the forefront of the world, the federal government must invest in science, basic research, and innovation, just as we did decades after World War II,” he said Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer, DN. Y. “Anyone who wins the race for the technologies of the future becomes a world economic leader with far-reaching consequences for foreign policy and national security.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Said the bill was incomplete because it did not contain other Republican-sponsored amendments. He supported it anyway.

“Needless to say, the final passage of this bill may not be the Senate’s final say on our competition with China,” he said. “It certainly won’t be mine.”

President Joe Biden welcomed the passage of the bill in a statement Tuesday evening, saying, “As other countries continue to invest in their own research and development, we cannot risk falling behind. America must maintain its position as the most innovative and productive nation on earth. ”

The senators struggled through days of debates and amendments that led to the final vote on Tuesday. Schumer’s office said 18 Republican amendments received votes as part of the bill’s passage. It is also said that the Senate held as many roll-call votes on amendments this year as it did in the previous Congress, when the Senate was under Republican control.

While the bill enjoys bipartisan support, a core group of GOP senators have reservations about its costs.

One of the provisions of the bill would create a new directorate, the National Science Foundation, focusing on artificial intelligence and quantum science. The bill would allow up to $ 29 billion over five years for the new branch within the foundation and an additional $ 52 billion for its programs.

Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., Said Congress should cut, not increase, the foundation’s budget. He called the agency “the king of wasteful spending”. The agency funds about a quarter of all government-sponsored research carried out by American colleges and universities.

“The bill is nothing more than a big government reaction that will make our country weaker, not stronger,” said Paul.

But Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Noted that during President George W. Bush’s tenure, greater federal investment in the physical sciences was called for in order to maintain America’s economic competitiveness.

“I’m pretty sure at the time we thought we were in a track meeting where our competitor was, oh, I don’t know, maybe half a lap behind us. I’m pretty sure now that the decade has passed is. ” “We look over our shoulder and see that the competition is increasing,” said Cantwell, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

The leading Republican on the committee also supported the bill.

“This is an opportunity for the United States to strike a blow in the name of responding to the unfair competition we are seeing in communist China,” said Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

Senators have tried to strike a balance in drawing attention to China’s growing influence. They want to avoid fueling divisive anti-Asian rhetoric when hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

Other measures specify national security concerns and target money laundering programs or cyber attacks by companies on behalf of the Chinese government. There are also “Buy America” regulations for infrastructure projects in the US

The senators added provisions that reflect changing attitudes towards China’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. Federal funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology would be prevented as new research into the origins of the virus and possible links to the lab’s research is conducted. The city registered some of the first coronavirus cases.

It is unclear whether the measure will find support in the democratically run house, where the science committee is expected to review this chamber’s version soon. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Who has worked with Schumer for the past two years on the legislation to be included in the bill, called it the largest investment in science and technology since the Apollo space program half a century ago.

“I’m pretty sure we’re going to get a really good product on the president’s desk,” said Schumer.

Biden said he looks forward to working with the House of Representatives on the legislation, “and I look forward to getting it signed as soon as possible”.

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