Bipartisan Senate vote advances technology bill

WASHINGTON – The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill on Tuesday aimed at boosting U.S. semiconductor production and the development of artificial intelligence and other technologies in the face of growing international competition, particularly from China.

The 68-32 votes for the bill show that the economic confrontation with China is an issue that unites both parties in Congress. That’s a rarity in an era of division as pressure mounts on Democrats to change Senate rules to break the Republican opposition and deadlock.

At the heart of the bill is an emergency allocation of $ 50 billion to the Department of Commerce to support semiconductor development and manufacture through research and incentive programs previously approved by Congress.

Proponents cited it as the largest investment in scientific research the country has seen in decades. This is because the country’s share of semiconductor manufacturing worldwide has steadily declined from 37% in 1990 to around 12% today, and a chip shortage has exposed weaknesses in the US supply chain.

Support for the bill shows that the economic confrontation with China is a mission that unites both parties in Congress. This is a rarity in an era of division as pressure mounts on Democrats to change Senate rules to overcome obstacles and blockades.

“The premise is simple: If we want American workers and American companies to continue to be world leaders, the federal government must invest in science, basic research and innovation, as we did decades after World War II,” said the Senate majority leader , Charles Schumer, DN. Y. “Anyone who wins the race for the technologies of the future becomes a world economic leader with far-reaching consequences for foreign policy and national security.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Said the bill was incomplete as it contained no other Republican-sponsored amendments. He supported it anyway.

“Needless to say, the final passage of this bill may not be the Senate’s final say on our competition with China,” he said. “It certainly won’t be mine.”

While the bill enjoys bipartisan support, a core group of GOP senators have reservations about the bill’s cost.

One of the provisions of the bill would create a new directorate, the National Science Foundation, with a focus on artificial intelligence and quantum science. The bill would allow up to $ 29 billion over five years for the new branch within the foundation and an additional $ 52 billion for its programs.

Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., Said Congress should cut, not increase, the foundation’s budget. He called the agency “the king of wasteful spending”. The agency funds about a quarter of all government-sponsored research carried out by American colleges and universities.

Senators have tried to strike a balance in drawing attention to China’s growing influence. They want to avoid fueling divisive anti-Asian rhetoric when hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

Other measures specify national security concerns and target money laundering programs or cyberattacks by companies on behalf of the Chinese government. There are also “Buy America” regulations for infrastructure projects in the US

The senators added provisions that reflect changing attitudes towards China’s handling of the Covid-19 outbreak. Federal funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology would be prevented as new research into the origins of the virus and possible links to the lab’s research is conducted. The city registered some of the first coronavirus cases.

It is unclear whether the measure will find support in the democratically run house, where the science committee is expected to consider it next week. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Who has worked with Schumer for the past two years on the legislation to be included in the bill, called it the largest investment in science and technology since the Apollo space program half a century ago.

Information on this article was contributed by Lisa Mascaro of The Associated Press.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., speaks to reporters in the Washington Capitol. Schumer warned his Democratic counterparts that June will “test our resolve” when the senators return on Monday to review infrastructure, voting rights and other priorities. Six months after the Democrats arrested Washington, the senators are under tremendous pressure to keep the Democrats’ election promises. (AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite, File)

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