history to bulk up the nation’s technology manufacturing in an effort to match competition from China.
The bill, expected to easily clear the upper chamber with support from Republicans and Democrats, includes tens of billions of dollars for scientific research, subsidies for chipmakers and robot makers, and an overhaul of the National Science Foundation.
The scope of the bill, the final product of at least six Senate committees and weeks of debate, reflects the many fronts in the U.S.-China rivalry and offers a rare glimpse at bipartisanship for legislation to counter Beijing’s economic and military expansion.
The proposal, subject to final changes, would:
Bar U.S. diplomats from attending the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics
Some commentators see the so-called Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 as a modern parallel to the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Failure to expand the nation’s semiconductor production, or reroute rare earths supply chains, advocates say, could leave the U.S. at a strategic disadvantage in the years ahead.
The final bill is expected to cost about $200 billion.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and one of the bill’s top cheerleaders, has for weeks worked to assemble the legislation’s many components. The final bill is expected to include well over 1,400 pages of text.
“The bipartisan legislation will be the largest investment in scientific research and technological innovation in generations, setting the United States on a path to lead the world in the industries of the future,” Schumer said from the Senate floor on Monday.
The bill is a product of six committees and features dozens of Republican amendments, he said, adding that the chamber would consider some final amendments Tuesday before passing the bill.
“It will be one of the most important things we’ve done in a very long time, the largest investment in scientific research and technological innovation in generations, decades,” Schumer said.
For their part, Senate Republicans have mostly stuck to the Trump-era’s tough-on-China approach even if it means a higher price tag or a more-involved federal government.
The largest part of the mammoth piece of the legislation is a proposal previously known as the “Endless Frontier Act.”
Now an amendment, that provision from Schumer and Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., would give new life to the National Science Foundation, appropriate $81 billion for the NSF between fiscal 2022 and 2026, and establish a Directorate for Technology and Innovation.
“Today, our leadership is being challenged by a state capitalist regime in Beijing that threatens to win the next century by dominating the critical technologies that are bound to shape it,” Young wrote in a May op-ed published by The Ripon Forum, a Republican opinion journal.
“It is time for the United States to go on offense by passing the bipartisan Endless Frontier Act, which would solidify U.S. leadership in scientific and technological innovation through increased investments in the discovery, creation, and manufacturing of technology critical to national security and economic competitiveness,” he added.
Even conservative Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has voiced support for the bill. His bipartisan CHIPS for America Act has since been folded into the broader bill and would appropriate about $50 billion to boost U.S. semiconductor manufacturing.
“The reality is despite the back and forth on process and some political snipping, the Senate has put together a very comprehensive piece of legislation,” Dewardric McNeal, who was a Pentagon policy analyst during the Obama era, told CNBC.
“Some of the biggest questions that many China experts had about this legislation was whether or not it would focus on ‘running faster than China,’ by investing more in ways to stay ahead and beat China technologically, or would it focus more on blocking China’s advancement and tackling China if it does get too far ahead by using legal and regulatory measures,” he added. “It appear as though the Senate has tried to do a little bit of both.”
The bill would fund a grant program managed by the Commerce Department that would, to an unspecified extent, match financial incentives offered by states and local governments to chipmakers who improve upon or build new factories.
Cramer: U.S. cannot be as beholden to Taiwan for semiconductors
Schumer and others hope such programs will entice domestic and foreign chipmakers to open new, state-of-the-art foundries in the U.S. The globe’s most-advanced foundries are operated exclusively by Samsung in South Korea and by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company in Taiwan.
The rare display of bipartisanship is even more impressive considering the long list of policy items congressional Democrats have been unable to advance even with majorities in both chambers.
With Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., opposed to scrapping the filibuster, progressive policy items from immigration reform to gun control have stalled.
Infrastructure has fared little better: Hundreds of billions of dollars still separate Republicans and Democrats, many of whom campaigned on the promise to pass a once-in-a-generation bill to repair the nation’s roads, bridges and waterways.
A new cold war?
Clear to all major parties involved — Democrats, Republicans and Chinese officials — is that the bill and its broad support provide the clearest proof yet that Washington’s deep skepticism of Beijing was not exclusive to the Trump administration.
Even over the past week, President Joe Biden has underscored his administration’s deep distrust of the Chinese government.
The White House announced on Friday that it will expand restrictions on American investments in certain Chinese companies with alleged ties to the country’s military and surveillance efforts, adding more firms to a growing U.S. blacklist.