The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill aimed at stimulating 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 vote for the bill demonstrates how economical it is to confront China, which unites both parties in Congress. This is a rarity in an era of divisions as the pressure on Democrats grows to change Senate rules to bypass the Republican opposition and a latch.
At the heart of the bill is a $ 50 billion emergency allocation to the Department of Commerce to draft semiconductor development and manufacturing through research and incentive programs previously approved by Congress. The total cost of the bill will increase spending by about $ 250 billion, with most spending occurring in the first five years.
Supporters described 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 gradually eroded from 37% in 1990 to about 12%, exposing vulnerabilities in the US supply chain as a scarcity of chips.
“The premise is simple – if we want American workers and businesses to continue to lead the world, the federal government must invest in science, basic research and innovation, just as we did decades after World War II,” Chuck said. . Schumer.
“Whoever wins the race for the technologies of the future will be the global economic leader, with far-reaching implications for foreign policy and national security,” he added.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the bill was incomplete because it no longer contained Republican-sponsored amendments. He supported it nonetheless.
“Needless to say, the final passage of this legislation cannot be the Senate’s last word on our competition with China,” he said. “It will definitely not be mine.”
President Joe Biden welcomed the passage of the bill Tuesday night, saying: “Since other countries are investing in their own research and development, we can not run the risk of falling behind. America needs its position as the most innovative. and maintain the most productive nation on earth. ”
Senators debated for days of debates and amendments that led to Tuesday’s final vote. According to Schumer’s office, 18 Republican amendments will receive votes as part of the bill. It also said that the Senate had already held as many votes on amendments this year as in the previous Congress when the Senate was under Republican control.
While the bill enjoys dual support, there is a core group of Republican senators who have concerns about its cost.
One of the provisions of the bill would create a new board focused on artificial intelligence and quantum science at the National Science Foundation. The bill will authorize up to $ 29 billion over five years for the new branch within the foundation, with another $ 52 billion for its programs.
Senator Rand Paul said Congress should cut the foundation’s budget, not increase it. He called the agency ‘the king of wasteful spending’. The agency funds about a quarter of all federally funded research conducted by U.S. colleges and universities.
“The bill is nothing but a major government response that will make our country weaker, not stronger,” Paul said.
But Senator Maria Cantwell noted that greater federal investment in the physical sciences was called for during the administration of President George W. Bush to ensure American competitiveness.
“I was pretty sure at the time that we thought we were in a track meet where our competitor was, oh, I do not know, maybe half a lap behind. I’m pretty sure now over the course of the decade, we’re watching over our shoulder and realize that the competition is winning, ‘says Cantwell, chairman of the Senate Committee on Trade, Science and Transport.
The Chief Republican on the committee also weighed in on the bill.
“This is an opportunity for the United States to strike a blow on behalf of responding to the unfair competition we see from communist China,” Senator Roger Wicker said.
Senators have been trying to strike a balance when it comes to China’s growing influence. They want to avoid inciting divisive anti-Asian rhetoric when hate crimes against Asian Americans escalate during the coronavirus pandemic.
Other measures address national security issues and target money laundering schemes or cyber attacks by entities on behalf of the Chinese government. There are also ‘Buy America’ terms for infrastructure projects in the US
Senators have added provisions that reflect the shift in attitudes toward China’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. One would avoid federal money for the Wuhan Institute of Virology as new investigations into the origin of the virus and possible links to the laboratory’s research continue. The city registered some of the first cases of coronavirus.
It is unclear whether the measure will find support in the Democratic House, where the Science Committee will soon consider the version of the chamber. Congressman Ro Khanna, who has been working with Schumer for two years on legislation included in the bill, calls it the largest investment in science and technology since the Apollo space program half a century ago.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll get a really good product on the president’s desk,” Schumer said.
Biden said he looks forward to working with the House on the legislation, “and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as possible.”