Gym Discussion Forges Unusual Senate Alliance to Pass China Bill
(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, were working out in the Senate gym, discussing how the U.S. could respond to the rise of China, when they first hit upon the idea that grew into a nearly $250 billion bipartisan competitiveness bill that passed the chamber on Tuesday evening.
Their plan was to strengthen U.S. innovation and their first stab at it was the Endless Frontier Act introduced in May 2020. But it went nowhere until Democrats gained narrow control of the Senate earlier this year and Schumer used his position to begin moving it through committees.
Looking back on that initial conversation, and the improbability of shepherding such an effort through a bitterly divided Congress, Young said in an interview Tuesday he has “rather enjoyed defying the expectations of some of my colleagues.”
Young and Schumer were an unlikely alliance. Young, 48, is still in his first term and represents a solidly Republican state. Schumer, 70, has represented reliably Democratic New York in the House and Senate for more than four decades.
“I think I demonstrated to Hoosiers, to my colleagues, and to anyone else who was watching that this Marine is prepared to work with anyone who wants to advance legislation to improve our national security and to make us collectively more prosperous,” said Young, a Naval Academy graduate. “Including the lead member of the opposition party.”
The measure, which has the support of President Joe Biden, was approved by a vote of 68-32, but faces an uncertain future in the House.
Schumer, who combined the Endless Frontier Act with a series of other committee proposals, has called the resulting bill one of the most important things the Senate has done “in a very long time.”
Young was instrumental in shoring up Republican support for the bill, which defied party orthodoxy in many respects, calling for a kind of industrial policy where government support would go toward reinvigorating technological innovation. He was often caught between his Republican colleagues pleading with him to slow the process and Schumer pressing to get the bill passed as soon as possible.
Young shuttled between offices, often reminding Schumer of their agreement that the bill should move through “regular order,” which meant committee hearings and consideration of amendments from both parties. It’s not practiced much in the modern-day Senate where leadership-broker deals on their own complex legislation.
The tensions came to a head during Senate Commerce Committee consideration of the bill in May. Young objected to an amendment offered by New Mexico Democrat Ben Ray Lujan to divert some funding to the Department of Energy, calling it a “poison pill” and saying it would defeat the chief purpose of the measure and cost Republican support. He lost the vote 23 to 5.
“I later found that DOE labs do some exceptional work and there are some upsides to doing research within DOE labs,” Young said. “One of the upsides is that they have a strong record of protecting intellectual property as compared to some of our universities. So I think that recognition required us to up our game in requiring stronger IP protection standards to our universities.”
Young is running for re-election in 2022. He says that his work with Schumer to get the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act over the finish line will be an asset in the race. He points to the regional tech hubs the bill will set up in places like Indiana as part of the equation but also the boldness of the effort, which he says is one of the most ambitious counter-China initiatives ever undertaken by Congress, a point Schumer would agree with.
“When all is said and done, the bill will go down as one of the most important things this chamber has done in a very long time,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “A statement of faith in America’s ability to seize the opportunities of the 21st century.”
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