(AP) — The Senate
overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday aimed at increasing U.S. semiconductor production as well as the development of artificial intelligence and other technology in the face of rising international competition, particularly from China
The bill was approved by a vote of 68-32, demonstrating that confronting China economically is an issue that unites both parties in Congress
, a rarity in an era of division as Democrats
face increasing pressure to change Senate rules in order to overcome Republican opposition and gridlock.
The bill's centerpiece is a $50 billion emergency allotment to the Commerce Department to restart semiconductor development and manufacturing through previously authorized research
and incentive programs. The overall cost of the bill would be around $250 billion, with the majority of the spending occurring in the first five years.
Supporters described it as the country's largest investment in scientific research in decades, coming at a time when the country's share of global semiconductor manufacturing has steadily declined from 37% in 1990 to around 12% now, and a chip shortage has exposed vulnerabilities in the U.S. supply chain.
“The premise is simple: if we want American workers and companies to continue to lead the world, the federal government must invest in science
, basic research, and innovation
, just as we did decades after World War II
,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
, R-Ky., said the bill was incomplete because it did not include more Republican-sponsored amendments, but he supported it nonetheless.
“Needless to say, the Senate’s final word on our competition with China will not be mine,” he said.
Senators slogged through days of debates and amendments leading up to Tuesday's final vote. Schumer's office said 18 Republican amendments will be voted on as part of the bill's passage, and that the Senate has already held as many roll call votes
on amendments this year as it did in the previous Congress, when Republicans
controlled the Senate.
While the bill has bipartisan support, a core group of Republican senators is concerned about the bill's cost.
One provision of the bill would establish a new directorate focused on artificial intelligence and quantum science within the National Science Foundation, with up to $29 billion authorized over five years for the new branch and an additional $52 billion for its programs.
Sen. Rand Paul
, R-Ky., said Congress should cut the foundation's budget rather than increase it, referring to the organization as "the king of wasteful spending." The foundation funds roughly a quarter of all federally supported research conducted by America's colleges and universities.
“The bill is nothing more than a big government reaction that will make our country weaker, not stronger,” Paul stated.
Senators have attempted to strike a balance in calling attention to China's growing influence, as they do not want to incite divisive anti-Asian
rhetoric at a time when hate crimes
against Asian Americans
have increased due to the coronavirus pandemic
Other measures address national security
concerns and target money-laundering schemes or cyberattacks carried out on behalf of the Chinese government, as well as "buy America" provisions for infrastructure
projects in the United States
Senators added provisions reflecting shifting attitudes toward China's handling of the COVID-19
outbreak. One would prohibit federal funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology
while new investigations into the virus's origins and possible links to the lab's research are conducted. The city recorded some of the first coronavirus cases.
It's unclear whether the bill will be supported in the Democratic-led House
, where the Science Committee is expected to vote on it soon. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who has been working with Schumer on legislation included in the bill for two years, called it the biggest investment in science and technology since the Apollo spaceflight program a half-century ago.
“I am confident that we will deliver a very good product to the president
’s desk,” Schumer said.