WASHINGTON – The Senate was on the verge of passing sweeping laws on Thursday to spur research and development towards scientific innovation and fuel the first major government foray into industrial policy in decades to strengthen competitiveness with China.
Fueled by mounting fears among members of both parties that the United States would lose its lead over China and other authoritarian governments that have invested heavily in the development of cutting-edge technologies, the move would get rolling $ 195 billion into research in a variety of sectors including manufacturing and semiconductor industries.
Negotiations on the legislation stretched into Thursday night, when senators haggled behind closed doors over last-minute changes, delayed an expected vote for Friday, and temporarily stranded Washington lawmakers before a holiday weekend.
However, the move received widespread support and reflected a bipartisan sense of 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 step up our game now, we’ll fall behind the rest of the world,” said New York Senator Chuck Schumer, majority leader and author of the bill. “That is what this law is ultimately about. Raise the ship. We invest in science and technology so that in the industries of the future, some of which we know and some of which we don’t know, we can outperform the world, outperform production and compete with the world. “
The move, the product of a collaboration between Mr. Schumer and Indiana Republican Senator Todd Young, came about when a series of policy changes resulted in a rare moment of consensus on the issue.
Mr Schumer, one of the Democratic Party’s fiercest China hawks for decades, was personally determined to use his new status as majority leader to enforce laws against Beijing. And a growing number of Republicans, following the example of former President Donald J. Trump, have put aside their party’s ancient orthodoxy against government interference and embraced the idea of aggressive measures to help American companies cope with an emerging rival compete.
The legislation would prop up the ailing semiconductor industry by providing instant funding for a $ 52 billion subsidy program while pouring hundreds of billions into America’s scientific research and development pipelines, creating new grants, and promoting agreements between private companies and research universities to help the breakthroughs in new technologies.
Still, it was unclear whether the bill – the popularity of which made it a magnet for favorite priorities of industry lobbyists and lawmakers – could achieve its ambitious goals. A frenzied round of bargaining watered down the legislation and cut the amount of money for a concentrated center for research and development on new technologies $ 29 billion, of $ 100 billion. Instead, lawmakers shifted much of that funding to the National Science Foundation’s traditional mission, basic research, and Department of Energy-run laboratories, rather than the new technology initiative.
The move was also weighed down by ecclesiastical projects used to attract broader support, including a new round of funding for NASA with terms likely to benefit Jeff Bezos’ space company, a ban on the sale of shark fins, and a mandate for marking the country of origin for king crabs. At around 11 p.m. Wednesday night, the Senate added, with almost no debate, a section that would double the budget of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a Pentagon research agency.
Hours before the bill was due to be passed, the Senators were still working on key components, such as a major trade measure that would re-authorize an expired provision that allows 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 at a recent hearing at some of the changes to the measure, said in an interview Thursday that the legislation still means “a significant increase in funding for applied research.” ”
“We will serve as a force multiplier in our efforts to counter China’s evil influence and activities,” he said.
Still, the legislature was rocked by partisan arguments at the last minute after Republicans feared they would have no more opportunity to pass China-related bills and, angry at what they called the overly hasty drafting process, called for that the Democrats get more of their proposals.
On Wednesday, during a closed lunch, Republicans attempted to convince their colleagues to postpone the passage of the bill. Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana argued that the process should be slowed down and hit Mr. Schumer: The majority leader moved as fast as if he were “walking around like a 5-year-old in a Batman costume on Halloween”. “Said Mr. Kennedy, according to two people who were familiar with his remarks.
The Democrats had allowed more than a dozen Republican amendments to vote, but the threat of a filibuster to block the legislation sparked one final round of closed-door bargaining when leaders extended a 15-minute procedural vote by four hours.
Strong Republican support for the bill – particularly in the context of the decision to send $ 52 billion to chipmakers and fund a program that Congress launched last year – was a paradigm shift in the party as it was rising China hawks in Congress increasingly support federal interventions in support of American manufacturing.
Senator Marco Rubio, Republican from Florida, praised the results “the government-business partnership to resolve an urgent crisis of national concern” had achieved during the pandemic, and noted the rapid development of vaccines.
“When it comes to research development technology, that is perhaps the greatest challenge ahead of us,” he said. “The 21st century is determined by this contest between China and the United States, and we simply cannot win this contest if we do not move forward and live up to it.”
Mr Rubio tried to add tougher counter-espionage measures to the legislation on Thursday, warning that it would be pointless to spend billions of dollars on research “if we allow the Chinese to steal it”. However, this move did not garner the 60 votes required to be added to the bill.
To connect manufacturing centers and research universities in the United States, the bill 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 E.F.A. will make sure we have them, ”said the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a legislative advocate, in a statement using the acronym for the Endless Frontier Act.
The bill would also provide a foreign policy roadmap for future engagement with China. She called on the Biden government to impose sanctions on those responsible for forced labor practices in and around Xinjiang and the systemic rape and forced sterilization campaign by the Chinese government against Uyghurs in the region.
This law, passed by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, contains measures to combat intellectual property violations and calls for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
Emily Cochrane and Nicholas Fandos Reporting.