“We are in a competition to win the 21st century,” President Joe Biden said this week after Senate passage of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. “The starting gun has gone off.”
The president’s comments followed a rare showing of bipartisan consensus as senators voted 68-32 Tuesday to approve a sweeping effort to fortify America’s ability to compete with China’s economic and political ambitions. U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, both D-N.M., voted for the act.
The legislation calls for investing billions in U.S. scientific research and manufacturing across industries including artificial intelligence and robotics. A key provision earmarks $52 billion for encouraging more semiconductor production in the United States as American production has fallen to 12% of global capacity, leading to critical supply chain shortages that have slowed production of items from cars to laptops.
“The legislation will not only boost investment in manufacturing capacity here at home but foster an innovation ecosystem and protect a critical supply chain,” Al Thompson, vice president of U.S. government relations for Intel Corp., said in the Wall Street Journal. Intel recently announced a $3.5 billion planned expansion at its Rio Rancho plant.
The legislation calls for a $250 billion investment over five years, including $10 billion for the Commerce Department to designate regional technology hubs for research, development and manufacturing of key technologies.
“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,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who pushed hard for the legislation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell backed the bill, though he wanted more Republican-sponsored amendments. “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.”
In addition to investment, the legislation has other China-related provisions, including prohibiting social media app TikTok from being downloaded on government devices and blocking the purchase of drones manufactured and sold by companies backed by the Chinese government. It allows more recognition of Taiwanese military and diplomats visiting here – another message directed at Beijing – and creates broad mandatory sanctions on Chinese entities engaged in U.S. cyberattacks or theft of U.S. intellectual property.
Federal agencies would be prohibited from hosting certain Chinese visitors, and agencies would have to take steps to ensure data such as biomedical research involving the human genome are safe from national security risks.
Schumer said the bill would “go down as one of the most important things this chamber has done in a very long time,” “a statement of faith in America’s ability to seize the opportunities of the 21st century.” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo applauded senators of both parties who came together “to get this done.” It’s not just about addressing the current semiconductor chip shortage, she said, but about long-term investments to “enhance our economic and national security.”
The measure now moves to the House, where it will be up to Speaker Nancy Pelosi to get her narrow majority on board – including Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury. And Republicans including Rep. Yvette Herrell should add their shoulders to the wheel. In this race for the future, we can’t afford to waste any time. Because China isn’t going to.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.