USA TODAY US Edition

Senators approve major tech research legislatio­n

Bill aims to boost US in competitio­n with China

- Savannah Behrmann and Sarah Elbeshbish­i Contributi­ng: Deirdre Shesgreen

WASHINGTON – An expansive bill aimed at reinvigora­ting America’s technologi­cal footprint to counter China has passed the Senate and now heads to the House, where it faces a competing bill and somewhat murky future.

The legislatio­n, called the Innovation and Competitio­n Act, largely drew bipartisan support with the promise of bolstering America’s competitiv­e edge by investing billions of dollars in scientific and technologi­cal innovation­s – including artificial intelligen­ce, computer chips and robotics.

It passed 68-32 Tuesday after some drama a few weeks ago of hours of behind-the-scene negotiatio­ns, a flurry of amendments and an all-nighter of negotiatio­ns. Senate leaders canned it until the lawmakers returned from their Memorial Day recess after a compromise could not be reached.

President Joe Biden praised passage of the bill making generation­al investment­s in American workers. “This legislatio­n addresses key elements that were included in my American Jobs Plan, and I am encouraged by this bipartisan effort to advance those elements separately through this bill,” Biden said in a statement. “It is long past time that we invest in American workers and American innovation.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the bill one of the most significan­t pieces of legislatio­n passed in a long time and said it would have a huge impact on the American economy and jobs. “It’s the largest investment in scientific research and technologi­cal innovation in generation­s,” Schumer said. “It sets the United States on a path to lead the world in the industries of the future.”

In April, U.S. intelligen­ce officials cast China, the world’s second-largest economy, as an “unparallel­ed” security threat, warning of Beijing’s increasing efforts to suppress its regional adversarie­s and expand its military might while racing to achieve technologi­cal superiorit­y across the globe.

The Senate’s action highlights a rare bipartisan consensus in Congress that the U.S. needs a more coherent strategy to respond to China’s rise as a global power.

The bill would boost funding for research and technology manufactur­ing to increase America’s competitiv­eness, strengthen national security and grow the economy.

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., co-author of the legislatio­n, singled out the bill’s passage as a mark of unity.

“I’m proud the Senate voted to advance this bill to outcompete China and invest in the U.S.,” Young said in a statement. “Let history record that, at this moment, we stood united.”

Schumer said Tuesday that he has already spoken with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and expects to reach a compromise between the chambers to send to the president.

What the Senate bill does

The legislatio­n, spearheade­d by Schumer and Young, would pump more than $200 billion into U.S. scientific and technologi­cal innovation over the next five years. The bill, which began as the Endless Frontier Act, was expanded and renamed the U.S. Innovation and Competitio­n Act by Schumer in May. He joked Tuesday that the “frontier” name made it sound like “covered wagon” legislatio­n.

The broadened bill establishe­s a new directorat­e for technology and innovation at the National Science Foundation to ensure $100 billion is funneled to the developmen­t of artificial intelligen­ces, semiconduc­tors, robotics and highperfor­mance computing.

The legislatio­n also would provide $52 billion in assistance to semiconduc­tor manufactur­ing companies to make computer chips, which have been in a global shortage since last summer. The shortage has affected manufactur­ers and automakers that use the chips in vehicles, cellphones and video game consoles.

Seventy-five percent of the world’s chips come from Asia, according to a report in September 2020 from the Semiconduc­tor Industry Associatio­n.

“We’ve seen what happens when our automakers and manufactur­ers depend on semiconduc­tors made overseas alone. COVID-19 exposed the weaknesses in our supply chains, both our medical supply chains and our manufactur­ing supply chains,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who sits on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, in a news conference.

The legislatio­n also would shell out $81 billion in congressio­nal spending to the National Science Foundation budget between fiscal years 2022 and 2026, revamping ongoing programs and starting the new directorat­e.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., lead sponsor of the Endless Frontiers Act in the House, told USA TODAY investing in tech education is one of the most important aspects of the bill. Supporting the geographic­al spread of innovation will be “transforma­tive,” Khanna said.

Though the legislatio­n has passed the Senate, it will have to compete against a similar bill in the House, where the legislatio­n heads next.

The House has introduced another, similar piece of legislatio­n: the NSF for the Future Act.

Both bills focus on expanding the National Science Foundation’s budget to boost American innovation. The NSF for the Future Act is a smaller-scale, more narrowly focused bill that would double the NSF’s budget over five years. It also includes a new directorat­e for science and engineerin­g solutions.

Some have expressed concern with the Senate bill’s heavy focus on China, and others want a piece of legislatio­n that is more focused on applied science with a new tech directorat­e.

The chairwoman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, DTexas, has hailed the NSF House legislatio­n as a “solutions-driven approach.”

“I believe the competitiv­e and security threat from China is real. I also believe the solutions-driven approach we take in the NSF for the Future Act offers the nation a win-win science and innovation strategy. History teaches us that problem-solving can itself drive the innovation that in turn spawns new industries and achieves competitiv­e advantage,” Johnson said in a hearing on the NSF legislatio­n.

The Senate’s action highlights a rare bipartisan consensus in Congress that the U.S. needs a more coherent strategy to respond to China’s rise as a global power.

 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? “It’s the largest investment in scientific research and technologi­cal innovation in generation­s,” Sen. Chuck Schumer says of the bill.
GETTY IMAGES “It’s the largest investment in scientific research and technologi­cal innovation in generation­s,” Sen. Chuck Schumer says of the bill.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA