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The Senate is likely to pass a sprawling bill aimed at helping the United States compete against China on Tuesday despite criticism from many Republicans that the bill either doesn’t do enough, costs too much, or both.
The bill, which started as the Endless Frontier Act before being changed to the U.S. Competition and Innovation Act, will invest in domestic chip production and R&D programs, create a new technology directorate at the National Science Foundation, seek to reassure American supply chains, invest in artificial intelligence, semiconductors, biotechnology; and more. It comes amid growing tensions and competition between the United States and China.
Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., the bill is widely lauded as a welcome effort to combat what nearly all senators agree is a serious threat from China.
“This is about competing head-on with the Chinese Communist Party’s plan of ‘Made in China 2025,’” Young told Fox News. “In the CCP’s plan, they also list out 10 areas that they are targeting in an effort to boost China’s role in the world. The technology areas that China has identified include: high-end robotics; biopharma / high-tech medical devices, next generation IT systems, advanced energy, and more.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters after final votes going into the Memorial Day recess, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, May 28, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Young added: “These areas are also critically important because of how values are woven into how they are utilized. The Chinese Communist Party is already using these emerging technologies to oppress those in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. They will, undoubtedly, continue using them in the future to achieve their authoritarian goals… America and our allies cannot fall behind in the race to innovate without undermining our prosperity and security.”
But as the legislative process unfolded, grumbling from some GOP quarters grew that the bill costs too must and does too little.
“Communist China steals U.S. technology and intellectual property every chance it gets – and the Senate’s $250 BILLION ‘China bill’ does almost nothing to fight it,” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said last week. “We can’t afford to throw away money we don’t have on bills that won’t work.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., added on the Senate floor Tuesday that he is glad Schumer allowed several Republican-sponsored amendments to the bill to get votes but “disappointed” that he ended “debate without allowing the Senate to consider a number of other outstanding Republican amendments.”
“Unfortunately, the final bill we will be voting on today will remain incomplete. It includes several smart, targeted measures but leaves many more on the table,” McConnell added. “And so it will advance as an imperfect approach to an extremely consequential challenge… Final passage of this legislation cannot be the Senate’s final word on our competition with China.”
Scott and a handful of other Republican senators blocked an effort to pass the bill before Memorial Day, railing against the steadily increasing cost.
“My primary concern about this bill is its price tag, almost one quarter of a trillion dollars – money we don’t have,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said at the time. “I’m glad there’s bipartisan recognition that China’s a threat and that we must respond – but that response must be effective.”
“Not only does this bill put us even more in debt, it gives money to one of the most wasteful agencies in government, the National Science Foundation, under the false guise of combating China,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. added.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said she is worried the bill will send “billions of dollars to federal agencies without guardrails,” citing U.S. funding that went to the Wuhan Institute of Virology before the coronavirus pandemic.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., walks past reporters as he arrives for the weekly Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Some Republicans are also concerned about a lack of pro-life protections in the bill or that there won’t be enough protections against Chinese spying and intellectual property theft for the programs the bill invests in.
There was some momentum of Republicans appearing to distance themselves from the bill as the process lurched forward. The initial cloture vote to move to consideration of the Endless Frontier Act passed 86-11 on May 17. But the cloture motion on Schumer’s substitute amendment only passed 68-30 just 10 days later.
Nevertheless, multiple GOP sources tell Fox News that they believe there are at least 10 Republican votes for the legislation, which will allow it to proceed to final passage later Tuesday.
An aide for a Republican senator who is likely to vote against the bill told Fox News that they believe at least 10 Republicans will vote for it, citing the noble goals of the legislation.
“What it’s trying to do is something we all support,” the aide said. But for their boss, the aide continued, “it’s too much money.”
Young, meanwhile, told Fox News that “This will benefit our economy and I think will be tough for members on either side of the aisle to go home and argue that this investment should not have been made.”
“This is the largest, boldest, most sweeping anti-Chinese Communist Party legislation in American history – and national security advisers, to generals and admirals, to business leaders agree the investment of the Endless Frontier Act needs to be made,” Young added.
Even if some Republicans believe the bill is significantly flawed, it still represents what could be the most significant bipartisan achievement in an extremely polarized Congress.
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech via video for the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference, in Beijing Tuesday, April 20, 2021. China under Xi’s leadership is accused of rampant intellectual property theft and is seen as having ambitions to supplant the United States as a global superpower. (Ju Peng/Xinhua via AP)
Republicans and Democrats appear poised to deadlock on a number of major issues from infrastructure to a Jan. 6 commission to President Biden’s American Families Plan. McConnell declared Monday that Democrats’ June agenda is “designed to fail,” with Schumer retorting that the only way that could be the case is if “Republicans design to block it.”
Still, Schumer said, after “three months of bipartisan negotiations, after the hard labor of six Senate committees… we should – and we will – pass this historic bill, today.”
“When all is said and done, the bill will 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,” Schumer added. “Either we can cede the mantle of global leadership to our adversaries, or we can pave the way for another generation of American leadership. That’s what this bill is all about.”
Fox News’ Kelly Laco contributed to this report.
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