Biden House Allies Map Path to Speed China Bill, Hand Him a Win

House Democrats are maneuvering to quickly pass a measure countering the economic challenge from China, setting up a bipartisan win for President Joe Biden, in the wake of Senate passage of a similar bill.

Under the strategy being considered, the House Science Committee would amend a measure it’s set to begin working on next week to wrap in elements of the $250 billion package that cleared the Senate in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, according to two people familiar with the negotiations.

The goal is to win passage of a version of the legislation by August, an outcome that would hand President Joe Biden a major bipartisan victory. The Senate measure calls for $52 billion in funding to boost U.S. output of computer chips after a shortage that slowed production in the automotive sector and other industries.

The measure won’t include some of the provisions directly targeting China, including restrictions on research money for universities, that Senate Republicans demanded and progressive Democrats oppose, one of the people said.

Several other House panels, including the Foreign Affairs Committee, are working on related components that would likely have to be integrated.

Still, the eventual House legislation is expected to emerge close enough to the Senate bill to allow them to be reconciled by a House-Senate conference committee, the person said. Even though it would strip out some of the elements of the Senate bill put in during a month of debate, the goal is to reach a final product that would satisfy Democrats without losing too many Republican votes.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t publicly committed to a timetable, and a House official said the chamber will develop its own version of the legislation through various committees.

However, the White House has made clear that it wants a final bill quickly.

Biden and administration officials “will remain in close contact with leaders in both the House and Senate on the path forward, including while the president is in Europe” in coming days, White House spokesman Michael Gwin said. “He looks forward to signing the bill as soon as possible.”

The House Science Space and Technology Committee is scheduled to begin work Tuesday on two pieces of legislation related to bolstering U.S. innovation, including one sponsored by Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson to support research through the National Science Foundation. She has criticized some of the Senate’s approach.

“I remain concerned that the Senate proposal, with its focus on technology development, strays too far in the direction of imposing a new, ill-fitting mission on NSF,” she said in a statement Thursday. “However, I think we can come together to forge a good path forward for NSF, and I hope we will have the opportunity in a House-Senate conference.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who sponsored the original Senate bill with Indiana Republican Senator Todd Young, which was known as Endless Frontier, has been pressing the House to act. California Democrat Ro Khanna and Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher introduced the House version of Schumer’s original measure.

“We are going to work with Speaker Pelosi and the relevant committee chairs in the House to move this bill forward as quickly as possible,” Schumer said Thursday on the Senate floor. “It is vital to our nation’s future that the House and Senate must come together to send President Biden a bill that he can sign into law.”

A White House official said the administration has briefed House leadership on its priorities, including provisions on supply-chain resiliency, regional technology hubs and research and development.

Khanna, speaking in an NPR interview with Young Thursday, said the bill proves “that the Congress is still capable of doing bipartisan big things.” Young said some Republican concerns were assuaged by promises that investing in areas such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robotics, autonomous technology and genomics would have “a massive multiplier effect” as the private sector benefits and creates jobs.

As Biden’s talks with senators about his infrastructure proposal drag on, the competitiveness legislation offers a chance for a major bipartisan bill before the 2022 midterm elections. After the turbulence of Trump years, Biden and Democrats, who control both chambers of Congress, are looking to demonstrate to voters that they can deliver.

China likely expects the legislation “to become law in the next couple of months, formalizing a further downtick in and casting a long-lasting shadow over U.S.-China relations,” Donald Straszheim, a China specialist at Evercore ISI, wrote in a note Thursday. Measures in the bill effectively codify “China as a U.S. strategic ‘adversary,’ not merely as a strategic ‘competitor,”’ Straszheim wrote.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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