Senate Panel Advances Bill to Counter China in Bipartisan Vote

The Senate Commerce Committee advanced legislation aimed at ramping up federal support for U.S. research and development in the aim of better competing with China.

The package of legislation the committee sent to the full Senate on an 24-4 vote is framed around a $100 billion, five-year injection to American colleges, universities and other research institutions to bolster domestic research and development. It also has $10 billion for regional technology hubs.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a sponsor of the legislation, has set an ambitious timetable for its passage on the Senate floor by the end of the month.

Republicans and Democrats have both emphasized the need for stronger efforts to confront China’s campaign to best the U.S. in technological development, though getting agreement on actual legislation and powering it through the 50-50 split in the Senate will test the ability of lawmakers to overcome the sharp partisan differences across most of the congressional agenda.

“The majority leader has set a very ambitious timetable, which we’re trying to accommodate,” Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, said ahead of the vote.

The Senate panel worked on the bill on the same day Biden hosted the top two congressional leaders from each party, and came a day before the president is scheduled to meet with Republican lawmakers specifically on infrastructure.

The China-directed legislation has as its base text a bill introduced by Schumer and Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican.

Initial signs for it were promising, with Schumer and Young both gaining the support of five co-sponsors in their parties. Subsequent developments suggested a rougher path, as the introduction of the bill was delayed and the committee vote -- known as a markup -- was postponed.

“What the U.S. does to improve its competitiveness is a domestic affair,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing Thursday in Beijing. “We are happy to see that the U.S. will be able to improve its economic development and people’s well-being.”

China GDP as % of U.S.

Senate Panel Advances Bill to Counter China in Bipartisan Vote

The Democratic chair of the committee, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, reached agreement with Wicker on a package of amendments and members of both parties are seeking additional changes.

The broader legislation has the support of numerous industry groups and trade associations, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the Semiconductor Industry Association and the Association of American Universities.

But it’s also attracted opposition, particularly in the House, where conservatives have argued it does not go far enough in challenging China and skirts too close to industrial policy, a phrase that rings alarm bells on the right.

GOP Opposition

The Republican Study Committee -- the largest GOP caucus in Congress, with more than 150 members -- released a three-page memo on Monday criticizing the legislation.

“Instead of spending over $100 billion in misplaced funding that could flow back to China through their IP theft and espionage efforts, Congress should get serious about protecting American innovation from assaults from China, and unleash the private sector by removing regulatory and tax barriers to innovation,” the caucus said in the memo.

Once the bill does get to the Senate floor, further amendments will be proposed.

One bipartisan proposal backed by the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Banking Committee would toughen the sanctions regime on China.

“This bill imposes mandatory sanctions on Chinese entities that steal American intellectual property and engage in cyberattacks against the U.S.,” GOP Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said of the proposed amendment he and Sherrod Brown of Ohio plan to offer on the Senate floor. The proposal also provides for “intensified use of existing sanctions authorities,” the duo said in a joint statement.

A measure approved earlier this year by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that imposes greater scrutiny over some foreign donations to universities could be added. But it’s stirred opposition from some supporters of the Endless Frontier package, including the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.

Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said in an interview on Tuesday that he expects the Senate also will take up $50 billion in funding for his Chips for America Act, which is intended to enhance U.S. semiconductor manufacturing, when it considers the Endless Frontier Act.

Young, who has been quarterbacking the Republican side, predicted a vote closer toward the end of the month.

“The number of amendments we’ve received is mostly reflective of the fact that there’s a lot of interest in this,” Young said. “Toward the end of the month I think is fair.”

Schumer also is aiming for finishing before the end of the current Senate work period -- which coincides with the end of May.

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