The US Senate has overwhelmingly approved a bill to boost American semiconductor production and the development of artificial intelligence and other technology in the face of growing international competition, most notably from China.
The 68-32 vote for the bill on Tuesday demonstrates how confronting China economically is an issue that unites both parties in Congress. It is a rare unifying issue in an era of division as pressure grows on Democrats to change Senate rules to push past Republican opposition and gridlock.
The centerpiece of the bill is a $50bn emergency allotment to the US commerce department to boost semiconductor development and manufacturing through research and incentive programs previously authorised by Congress. Overall, the bill would increase spending by about $250bn, with most of the spending occurring in the first five years.
The bill now heads to the House of Representatives, which earlier passed a different version. The two will have to be reconciled into a single bill before it is sent to the White House for the president’s signature.
Joe Biden said he was “encouraged” by the Senate’s passage of the United States Innovation and Competition Act.
“We are in a competition to win the 21st century, and the starting gun has gone off,” Biden said.
“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.”
Supporters described the bill as the biggest investment in scientific research that the country has seen in decades. It comes as the nation’s share of semiconductor manufacturing globally has steadily eroded from 37% in 1990 to about 12% now, and as a chip shortage has exposed vulnerabilities in the US supply chain.
“The premise is simple, if we want American workers and American companies to keep leading the world, the federal government must invest in science, basic research and innovation, just as we did decades after the second world war,” said Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer.
“Whoever wins the race to the technologies of the future is going to be the global economic leader, with profound consequences for foreign policy and national security as well.
“If we do nothing, our days as the dominant superpower may be ending. We don’t mean to let those days end on our watch. We don’t mean to see America become a middling nation in this century.”
The bill has a number of other China-related provisions, including prohibiting the social media app TikTok from being downloaded on government devices, and would block the purchase of drones manufactured and sold by companies backed by the Chinese government.
It would also allow diplomats and Taiwanese military to display their flag and wear their uniforms while in the US on official businesses, and creates broad new mandatory sanctions on Chinese entities engaged in US cyberattacks or theft of US intellectual property from US firms. It provides for a review of export controls on items that could be used to support human rights abuses.
The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, backed the bill but said it was incomplete because it did not incorporate more Republican-sponsored amendments.
“Needless to say, final passage of this legislation cannot be the Senate’s final word on our competition with China,” he said. “It certainly won’t be mine.”
Senators slogged through days of debates and amendments leading up to Tuesday’s final vote. Schumer’s office said 18 Republican amendments will have received votes as part of passage of the bill. It also said the Senate this year has already held as many roll call votes on amendments than it did in the last Congress, when the Senate was under Republican control.
While the bill enjoys bipartisan support, a core group of Republican senators has reservations about its costs.
One of the bill’s provisions would create a new directorate focused…