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Senate passes bipartisan bill to boost tech competitiveness with China

The bill would commit nearly $250 billion to promote emerging technologies in the U.S. that China's government is working to promote, as well.
Image: Chuck Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks at a news conference at the Capitol just after the Senate narrowly approved a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill on March 6.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

The Senate passed bipartisan legislation Tuesday to boost science and technology research for the U.S. to better compete with China.

In a vote of 68-32, the chamber passed the 60-vote threshold needed. The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which is also known as the Endless Frontier Act, now heads to the House.

Senators struck a bipartisan deal on the legislation last month before they left for recess, but a handful of Republican senators decided to temporarily block passage to make a point about other issues, including the southern U.S. border wall.

The bill would commit nearly $250 billion to promote emerging technologies in the U.S. that China's government is working to promote, as well, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing, computer chips, robotics and the lithium batteries used in smart devices and electric vehicles.

Bipartisan negotiations are often stalled or continue over a variety of issues, including infrastructure, policing reform, gun control and immigration. The China competitiveness bill, which was authored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., has been one of the first recent attempts at legislating using regular order.

U.S. intelligence officials said in an assessment in April that China is on a list of countries considered global threats to U.S. interests. China's handling of the early coronavirus outbreak within its borders also worsened tension, while the disruption to worldwide supply chains raised concerns about whether the U.S. had become too dependent on manufacturers abroad for things like medical supplies, from China or elsewhere.

Young tweeted Tuesday that the bill's passage shows that "at this moment, we stood united in our fight against the Chinese Communist Party."

President Joe Biden, who has criticized China and made increasing competitiveness with Beijing an administration priority, praised passage of the measure in a statement.

"By strengthening our innovation infrastructure, we can lay the foundation for the next generation of American jobs and American leadership in manufacturing and technology," he said. "We are in a competition to win the 21st century, and the starting gun has gone off. As other countries continue to invest in their own research and development, we cannot risk falling behind. America must maintain its position as the most innovative and productive nation on Earth."

The bill will head to the Democratic-controlled House, where its fate is unclear. Schumer said at a news conference Tuesday that he plans to work with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to get the bill to Biden's desk.

"That’s one of the most major and significant pieces of legislation we passed in a long time, which is going to have a huge effect on the future of the American economy and American jobs," Schumer said. "It’s the largest investment in scientific research and technological innovation in generations. It sets the United States on a path to lead the world in the industries of the future."

China reacted strongly to the act. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress said in a statement it was "full of Cold War thinking and ideological prejudice" and accused the U.S. of slandering China "in a vain attempt to contain China’s development."

"The bill attempts to exaggerate the so-called 'China threat' to maintain the U.S.' global hegemony, interfere in China's internal affairs under the pretext of human rights and religion, and deprive China’s right to develop through technology and economic decoupling," the statement said.