After months of political maneuvering and procedural hurdles, the Senate on Tuesday approved a massive science and technology bill to boost U.S. competitiveness with China. The bill invests billions in emerging technology industries such as artificial intelligence, semiconductors and quantum computing in the United States.
The bill, titled the United States Innovation and Competition Act or USICA, builds on a previous proposal by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), called the Endless Frontier Law. Endless Frontier has been hailed as one of the first major bipartisan bills to come from the Biden administration. But in recent months the bill, which was seen as a must-have piece of legislation for both sides, has been pumped up with political mush and much of the initial funding has been watered down as it progressed. in the Senate process.
In its current form, the bill provides $ 52 billion for domestic semiconductor manufacturing, as well as a 30% increase in funding for the National Science Foundation and $ 29 billion for new scientific leadership that will be will focus on applied sciences.
“Whoever wins the race for the technologies of the future will be the world’s economic leader,” said Schumer. in a tweet Tuesday. “We need to invest in science, R&D, manufacturing and innovation. “
The Endless Frontier Act was originally intended to provide $ 100 billion in funding for new scientific direction to the National Science Foundation to promote research in emerging technological fields. It would distribute billions of dollars to regions across the country to create new tech hubs and encourage tech companies to find homes outside of Silicon Valley and the coasts.
Last month, the package seemed doomed to failure as Republicans withheld their votes to end debate on the bill. Hours after the initial closing vote was called, Schumer reached an agreement with Republicans to hold votes on parts of the bill they were challenging the following week. Specifically, Republicans were concerned about the wording of the bill that would require an effective wage for semiconductor manufacturers in the United States. On Tuesday, an amendment to delete this wording was rejected.
In March, President Joe Biden presented his extensive infrastructure package known as the American Jobs Plan. The original $ 2 trillion plan contained funding for broadband expansion, roads, highways, and provided $ 50 billion for domestic semiconductor manufacturing. Tuesday’s vote in the Senate marks the next step in achieving parts of the administration’s infrastructure goals.
Earlier this year, Biden signed an executive order to address growing concerns about a global semiconductor shortage. The order called for a 100-day government review of supply chains to address shortcomings in chip procurement. This review was published on Tuesday, and the White House launched a new working group to address these supply chain disruptions.
USICA’s approval on Tuesday also provides $ 10 billion to transform cities and regions across the United States into “technology hubs,” focusing on research and development in cutting-edge industries and the creation of new ones. well-paying tech jobs off the coast. The funds will go to the Commerce Department and the cities can explain to the government why it should be the recipient of these funds.
“It is certainly a welcome injection of resources,” said Mike Wallace, legislative director for human development at the National League of Cities. The edge Last week. “These are funds that will help local elected officials, but all stakeholders, to think about economic mobility in a regional way.”
The USICA has been criticized not only by Republicans, but also by progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Sanders initially voted in favor of the competition bill last month on what he called a “multibillion-dollar Bezos bailout” that would clear $ 10 billion for the Amazon CEO’s space business. , Blue Origin, to participate in NASA’s upcoming mission to the moon, named “Project Artemis.” Sanders also attempted to negotiate language in the bill that would give the federal government equity stake in exchange for grants and aids for semiconductors.
The package still has to go through the House before President Biden can sign it. Tuesday, Schumer said that he was “quite certain that we will get a great product on the president’s desk,” but it is not clear how long that will take or if the bill will change further.