Senate set to pass $195 billion bill to boost competitiveness with China

WASHINGTON – The Senate was on the verge of passing sweeping legislation to accelerate research and development in scientific innovation on Thursday, advancing what would be the government’s first significant effort in industrial policy in decades to bolster competitiveness against China. .

Inspired by increasing apprehensions among members of both sides that the United States is losing its edge against China and other authoritarian governments that have invested heavily in developing state-of-the-art technologies, the measure will be almost $195 billion In research in many fields including manufacturing and the semiconductor industry.

Extensive support for the measure reflects a bipartisan sense of urgency to act between one Epidemic that has exposed Beijing’s chokehold On important supply chains including global Semiconductor shortage It has shut down American automobile factories and slowed down the delivery of consumer electronics.

New York senator Chuck Schumer, majority leader and author of the bill, said, “If we don’t advance our game right now, we’ll fall behind the rest of the world.” “That’s what this law is ultimately about. Fixing the ship. Investing in science and technology so that we can get ahead of the world, overtake, and outgrow the world in future industries, some of which we know And some of which we do not know.

The measure, the product of a collaboration between Mr. Schumer and Senator Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana, has come together as a series of political changes, a rare moment of consensus has arisen over the issue.

Mr. Schumer, one of the most staunch China hawks of the Democratic Party for decades, was personally determined to use his new position as majority leader to advance through legislation to counter Beijing. And a growing number of Republicans, former President Donald J. Under Trump’s leadership, his party’s conservatism against government interference in the economy has been set aside and has adopted the idea of ​​aggressive measures to help American companies compete with an emerging rival.

The law will boost the struggling semiconductor industry by providing an emergency injection of funds for a $ 52 billion subsidy program sinking hundreds of billions into American scientific research and development pipelines, new grants and agreements between private companies and research universities to encourage Will encourage Breakthrough in new technology.

Still, it was unclear whether the bill – whose popularity made it a magnet for the pet preferences of industry lobbyists and lawmakers – could meet its ambitious goals. A frenzied round of bargains weakened the law, reducing the amount of funding for a focused center for research and development in emerging technologies. $ 29 billion From $ 100 billion. Instead lawmakers shifted that funding to laboratories run by the Department of Energy, rather than the National Science Foundation’s traditional mission of basic research, as well as new technology initiatives.

The measure was also weighed down by narrow projects pitched in a bid to win widespread support, including a new round of funding for NASA that is likely to benefit Jeff Bezos’ space venture, the sale of shark fins. Banning and labeling the country of origin for king crab for a mandate. At around 11 a.m. Wednesday night, with almost no debate, the Senate added a clause that would double the budget of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon research agency.

Hours before the law was passed, senators were still drafting key components, such as a major trade measure that would reauthorize a lapsed provision that would allow temporary suspension of tariffs on specific products imported into the United States is. It would instruct the United States Trade Representative to negotiate agreements on forced labor and critical minerals.

Mr Young, who made no secret of his frustration with some changes to the measure at a recent hearing, said in an interview on Thursday that the law was still “a significant increase in funding that we can use for applied research.” will see. “

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

Nevertheless, the legislation was affected by last-minute partisan skirmishes after Republicans, fearing they would not have another opportunity to pass China-related bills and which they called for an overly rapid drafting process. As portrayed, he demanded that the Democrats include more of his proposal.

In a closed door Wednesday, Republicans tried to persuade their allies to delay passage of the bill. Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana argued that the process should be slowed down and took a taunt at Mr. Schumer: the majority leader was moving so fast as if he was “like a 5-year-old in a Batman costume on Halloween”. “Running,” Mr. Kennedy said, according to two people familiar with his remarks.

Democrats had allowed votes on more than a dozen Republican amendments, but the threat of one firefighter The final round of bargaining to block the law took place behind closed doors, as leaders extended the 15-minute procedural vote to four hours.

Strong Republican support for the bill – especially around the decision to send $ 52 billion to chipmakers, funding a program created by Congress last year – was a paradigm shift in the party, with Congress ascending China increasingly into federal The intervention supported. American Manufacturing.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida took to the Senate floor before the vote and praised the results as “a partnership of government and business to resolve the immediate crisis of national concern” during the epidemic citing the rapid development of vaccines was born.

“When it comes to research development technology, this is probably the biggest need we face,” he said. “The 21st century is being defined by this competition between China and the United States, and it is a competition that we cannot win until we go ahead and fight it.”

Mr Rubio tried to add tough counterintelligence measures to the law on Thursday, warning that spending billions of dollars on research would be pointless “if we are going to allow the Chinese to steal it.” But that measure failed to garner the 60 votes needed to be added to the bill.

To connect manufacturing centers and research universities across the United States, the law will allocate $ 10 billion to build regional technology centers that aim to promote public-private partnerships and support incoming researchers and other workers.

“America’s technology-based economy needs skilled professionals of all kinds, and EFA will make sure we have them,” the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a group that lobbied for the legislation, said in a statement, For the Endless Frontier Act using the acronym

The bill also provides a foreign policy road map for future engagement with China. It calls on the Biden administration to ban those responsible. Forced labor practices campaigns of systemic rape in and around Xinjiang, as well as forced sterilization Crimes by the Chinese government against Uygar minorities in the region.

That law, approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, includes measures to combat intellectual property infringement and calls for a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Emily Cochran and Nicholas Fandos Reporting.

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