The US Congress is moving with increasing urgency on bipartisan legislation to confront China, and bolster US competitiveness in technology and critical manufacturing with the US Senate poised to act within weeks on a package of bills.
As part of the package, US Senator John Cornyn plans to push for incentives to strengthen domestic semiconductor manufacturing through his CHIPS for America Act, a person familiar with the matter said.
The bill became law earlier this year, but was never funded.
US President Joe Biden has called for as much as US $50 billion for the initiative.
Cornyn and other lawmakers want what Congress has already passed to be fully funded.
The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on a 21-1 vote Wednesday, approved a bill aimed at China on a number of fronts, including by more closely scrutinizing foreign donations to US colleges and universities.
The panel’s action came shortly after US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and US Senator Todd Young formally introduced their “endless frontier act” that, among other things, would authorize US$100 billion over five years to bolster research and development in technology, computing, artificial intelligence, manufacturing and other areas.
“It’s a big, bold, bipartisan initiative” to propel the US “into the 21st century,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
The US Senate Commerce Committee is expected to put together the legislation next week, and Schumer has said he expects to combine it with other bills dealing with China and US competitiveness on the Senate floor as soon as next month.
The developments are an indicator of the broad, bipartisan sentiment in Congress to counter China’s growing economic and strategic power and to make a statement about the country’s treatment of Uighurs and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.
The “strategic competition act” approved by the Senate committee on Wednesday included an amendment to prohibit the US from sending a government delegation to the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February next year. US athletes would still be allowed to compete.
Other concerns are also influencing lawmakers. A global shortage of semiconductors has already caused economic pain in the US, as auto plants have been forced to shut down because of a lack of chips for cars and trucks. Other industries are also affected, and the shortage has led to added new urgency to efforts to increase chip manufacturing in the US.
US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo on Tuesday told senators that production deficiencies amounted to “a national security risk and an economic security risk.”
US Representative Michael McCaul said he and other sponsors of the CHIPS act “look at endless frontier as our response to counter the Chinese Communist Party when it comes to technology, whether it’s artificial intelligence, quantum computing, 5G versus Huawei.”
“And the chip manufacturing falls right in place with that because it’s such a big part of our military apparatus,” McCaul said in an interview.
Young said last week that some of his colleagues were asking to slow down the legislation so that they could review it and that it could be weeks before it would be introduced. Then things sped up significantly.
“Right now, the Chinese Communist Party is emphasizing to the world that the United States is a divided nation,” Young said in a statement. “This is a rare opportunity to show the authoritarians in Beijing, and the rest of the world, that when it comes to our national security, and most importantly our China policy, we are united.”
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