A bill introduced to the Democrat-controlled Senate appears to be the newest bipartisan effort to curb China’s global economic expansion and encourage U.S. companies to outpace them with cutting-edge advancements, but some Republican legislators caution that the bill is expensive and doesn’t send the right message to China.
Democrat Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is leading the charge to pass the more than $250 billion bill funding national research grants and boosting the U.S. semiconductor industry but after weeks of deliberations, Senate Republicans delayed the vote until after Congress’s week-long Memorial Day recess over concerns that the legislation did not receive full, proper scrutiny by legislators or the public.
Cracking down on China is starting to become more of a bipartisan effort in Congress, but how to address the communist nation’s rapid technological growth and willingness to steal intellectual property is not widely agreed upon. To pass the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021, formerly the Endless Frontier Act, Republicans are asking for reassurance that U.S. tax dollars won’t be wasted.
“My primary concern about this bill is its price tag — almost one-quarter of a trillion dollars, which we will have to borrow,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, one of the Republicans who led last week’s halt, told The Federalist. “When people ask for more bipartisanship in Congress, I tell them to be careful what they wish for.”
Between budget concerns and wariness about certain companies benefitting from special interests, other GOP senators have joined Johnson’s cautionary approach and walked back their support for the bill.
“This bill concerns me, in part because it involves an attempt by the United States of America to compete with China, but on terms that don’t favor us,” Sen. Mike Lee explained last week during negotiations.
.@SenMikeLee on Schumer’s China bill: “This bill concerns me, in part because it involves an attempt by the United States of America to compete with China, but on terms that don’t favor us.” pic.twitter.com/j0wDFJi60H
— The Hill (@thehill) May 29, 2021
Some Republicans have tried to soften the expensive bill’s financial impact and wide-ranging provisions by introducing amendments to ensure that the academic and scientific institutions seeking to receive grant money include mechanisms for vetting and oversight.
As Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky pointed out in late May using colorful charts, science and technology organizations in the United States already receive bags of federal money for various purposes, but most of that amounts to wasteful, noncompetitive spending that doesn’t do much to rival China.
Sen. Rand Paul gearing up for the three-day weekend pic.twitter.com/4RWtAzPvtH
— Emily Brooks (@emilyelarsen) May 28, 2021
Paul’s warnings, however, were not heeded. When Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida offered an amendment that encouraged oversight for the grants being awarded to various research institutions, it was turned down in a 55-40 vote.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) May 27, 2021
Special interests are also a concern. In another amendment proposal, which was supported by GOP members such as Johnson, progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders tried to cancel the $10 billion of wasteful spending in the bill for Jeff Bezos that could be potentially funneled to his Blue Origin space company, which lost out NASA’s contact with Space X to put astronauts back on the moon. The amendment did not even receive a vote.
Johnson also co-sponsored an amendment proposed by Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, which “would have prevented further deficit spending on this bill by repurposing state and local spending from previous Covid relief bills” and sponsored an amendment to push back on China’s fentanyl drug trafficking in the U.S., but it too went down in a nearly party-line vote.
“Growing national debt weakens America relative to China,” Johnson told The Federalist.
While he is “glad” legislators on both sides of the political aisle see China as a threat, he believes “the response must be effective.”
“I don’t believe any government allocates capital as efficiently as the private sector. This bill will increase the government’s influence over the private sector while weakening America by increasing our debt. Democrats love spending other people’s money and growing government. I have no idea why any Republican would want to help them do that,” he concluded.
What other objections to this legislation does Johnson believe should be made before the Senate votes on it?
The bill’s sponsors bragged about the open regular-order process, and I’ll admit we voted on more amendments than normal. But just because the Senate was slightly less dysfunctional doesn’t mean there was even close to enough time to thoughtfully consider, craft, or have amendments included in the legislation. The decisions regarding which amendments would receive a vote were completely controlled by leadership — it was not a full and open amendment process. The fact that Sen. Sanders’ amendment to strike the $10 billion wasteful spending in the bill for Jeff Bezos did not receive a vote speaks volumes. My hope is that during the 10-day delay, the public will examine this bill and provide their input to senators.