Senate Moves Forward With Bill Aimed at Countering China’s Rise

The Senate voted to move ahead with a bill that would jump-start U.S. research and development with a cash infusion of more than $100 billion as part of a broader push to strengthen American technological competitiveness against a rising China.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the legislation a “once-in-a-generation investment in American science and American technology.”

“Members on both sides of the aisle know that decades of federal under-investment in science and technology have imperiled America’s global economic leadership,” Schumer said Monday before the 86-11 vote to begin consideration of the bill. “Holding the Chinese Communist Party accountable for its years of rapacious economic policies and theft of American ingenuity will help create a level playing field that American workers have lacked for decades.”

The bill Schumer introduced with Indiana Republican Senator Todd Young, known as the Endless Frontier Act, is now headed for as much as two weeks of debate. It will be combined with China-aimed legislation advanced by several other Senate committees, including Foreign Relations and Banking. Schumer said he still expects it will pass by month-end.

The bill’s path in the House is less certain. It’s unlikely the Senate version will simply be agreed to, according to a House Democratic leadership aide. The House plans to act in the same areas as the Senate and will be considering a series of science and technology-focused education bills this week as part of that effort, the aide said.

The main part of the Schumer-Young bill would authorize more than $100 billion over five years to boost research and development of innovative technology and manufacturing at colleges, universities and other institutions and create a new entity within the National Science Foundation to focus on technology.

Negotiations remain under way on including a $50 billion emergency appropriation aimed at boosting domestic semiconductor manufacturing. Schumer is pushing for an amendment to ensure prevailing wages are paid at any facility built with federal grant money, while Republican sponsors of the legislation are opposed to such a measure, people familiar with the deliberations said.

Biden has proposed $50 billion in research and development for the microprocessors as part of his long-term economic plans, but has thrown his support behind the Senate legislation, which is on a faster timeline than his infrastructure package.

The legislation is bound to change as senators seek to put their own stamp on the initiative and add provisions aimed at enhancing security and other aspects of the bill.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, for example, has proposed an amendment that aims to shield research and development facilities from threats of espionage or theft. His proposal would expand oversight of research funds to include the U.S. intelligence community. It also would prohibit people who have received financial or other support from the Chinese government from receiving the funds.

Skirmishing continues over how the money authorized by the legislation gets divvied up. The money has been carved up into separate tranches, with about half going to the core functions of the National Science Foundation and almost $30 billion going to help stand up a new tech directorate within the agency.

Senators from states where Department of Energy national laboratories are located added an amendment to direct about $17 billion to those facilities -- over Young’s objections.

Rubio had also called on the Senate floor for the legislation to be directed to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- or DARPA -- instead of the National Science Foundation, calling the NSF “the same agency that time and again has had the research we fund stolen by professors and graduate students who are on the payroll for China.”

Other Republicans, including those on the House Republican Study Committee, the largest ideological caucus in Congress, said the legislation did not have sufficient protections built in and called for boosting defense spending rather than spend money on research and development.

A fervor among Democrats and Republicans to counter China’s challenge to U.S. economic primacy has made the legislation one of the few bills to draw broad support at time when partisan divisions are running deep. Its fate also may serve as an indicator for other proposals, such as infrastructure, that have nominal bipartisan support.

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