The Senate on Thursday advanced bipartisan legislation that would counter China’s growing influence by investing over $200 billion in American technology, science and research, after marathon negotiations Thursday.
The vote clears the way for final passage though it’s unclear when that will happen. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin held up the bill from advancing to a final vote late Thursday night, keeping members of the Senate on the chamber floor into the early Friday morning hours.
However, if the bill does pass, it would amount to a major bipartisan win for President Joe Biden and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who was a key co-author of the legislation.
The procedural vote earlier Thursday passed 68-30. Democrats and Republicans agreed under the deal to consider additional amendments, including one co-sponsored by GOP Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon concerning US trade that had become the key provision holding up the bill.
Most Republican senators had initially voted to block the bill, but after the deal was struck enough switched their votes to allow it to advance.
The procedural vote got off to a rough start on Thursday morning as Republicans appeared poised to block the bill from advancing. The vote was held open for over three hours as senators from both parties negotiated amendments. Many GOP senators have expressed concern over not getting enough amendment votes.
The sweeping legislation, “the US Innovation and Competition Act,” aims to confront China’s influence on multiple fronts and “will supercharge American innovation and preserve our competitive edge for generations to come,” Schumer said.
The vote comes after a bumpy week, where Republican leaders warned they would block the bill with a filibuster unless they got more votes on GOP amendments.
Schumer pushed back against this criticism late Wednesday night saying Democrats have “cooperated” with the minority and “had more amendments on this bill than any bill I can recall in a very long time.” So far, there have been 18 amendment votes, the majority of which were backed by Republicans.
GOP senators aren’t the only ones that want to see changes in the bill. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, notably voted against advancing it as well on Thursday. The Vermont Independent has raised concerns over several provisions, including $10 billion in funds authorized for NASA that’s likely to benefit the space company of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, as well as $54 billion to the US semiconductor industry.
Still, Schumer touted the depth of bipartisanship on the measure, which is rare these days on Capitol Hill, and said it reveals that senators “want to work together” and how united both parties are “to preserve and maintain American leadership on the world stage.”
The effort was the product of multiple Senate committees, marking it one of the few areas of successful bipartisan cooperation in the Senate. There was a robust amendment process on the Senate floor – a rarity in the modern Senate. The base of the bill comes from legislation that Schumer and Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana introduced together last year, which was called the Endless Frontier Act.
The bill from Schumer and Young, which included investments in a new tech directorate in the National Science Foundation to spur US technology innovation, was rolled up with bipartisan legislation from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called the Strategic Competition Act. The package the Senate advanced also includes $54 billion in spending to spur the US semiconductors industry, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate, to challenge China’s increasing superiority in manufacturing and global supply chains. There are additional investments in cybersecurity and biotechnology, according to a Senate Democratic summary.
White House officials have closely monitored — and been closely involved in – the drafting and amendment process of a bill they have urged lawmakers to get to Biden’s desk.
The bill serves multiple purposes for the White House, which has sought to ramp up economic capability in the face of a rising and increasingly competitive China.
Even before the measure reached the floor, it went through significant changes, attracting many different kinds of policy provisions as one of the few pieces of legislation likely to actually get signed into law this year.
When the Senate Commerce Committee debated and amended the Endless Frontier Act, many items were added, including a provision dealing with country of origin labeling for king crab and another to ban the transport, sale or purchase of shark fins. The committee added the NASA Authorization Act to the legislation, along with a $10 billion authorization for NASA’s Artemis lunar lander program likely to benefit Blue Origin, a company owned by Bezos that’s based in the home state of Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat.
Young disapproved of a move in the committee to divert funding from the National Science Foundation for the tech directorate to the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories – pushed by senators with national labs in their states – but he supported the measure anyway.
Once the legislation reached the floor, many more amendments were added, with votes occurring late into the evening on Wednesday. The Senate approved several amendments from Republicans by voice vote on Tuesday, including one from Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky to ban the National Institutes of Health from funding “gain-of-function” research in China, an amendment from Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst blocking any federal funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology and an intellectual property provision from Montana Sen. Steve Daines.
The bill’s passage would mark a key bipartisan win for the President, who made reaching across the aisle a central component of his strategy but has faced criticism for moving unilaterally on his largest agenda items to this point.
Perhaps most importantly for Biden, the measure serves as a vehicle for a significant plank on research and development and on manufacturing from his sweeping $4 trillion legislative priorities.
White House officials view moving other elements of the overall proposal through separate pathways as creating more space for the other elements of Biden’s economic agenda.
This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.