US lawmakers pass bill to counter China’s influence, high tech

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United States lawmakers voted on Friday in favor of a multibillion-dollar bill aimed at jumpstarting high-tech research and manufacturing, countering China’s growing influence and easing a global shortage of computer chips.

The House Democrats’ America Competes bill, their version of the Senate, passed the $250 billion U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which was approved in a 222-210 vote in the lower chamber.

The legislative push comes after the U.S. Commerce Department warned that companies have an average of less than five days’ worth of semiconductor chips on hand, leaving them vulnerable to shutdowns.

U.S. President Joe Biden wants to invest $52 billion in domestic research and production and, after sitting on the bill since June, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently listed the $350 billion package as a top priority.

“Together, we have an opportunity to show China and the rest of the world that the 21st century will be the American century – forged by the ingenuity and hard work of our innovators, workers, and businesses,” Biden said in a late January endorsement of the legislation.

Its passage into law would mark a win that Biden would love to be able to trumpet at his State of the Union address on March 1, although it will need to be married with the Senate version, which could take several weeks.

‘Predatory trade’

The White House sees the initiative as the main legislative tool to combat China’s growing prowess.

Senior administration officials, including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, have been pushing the House behind the scenes to move it quickly.

The 2,900-page House version is set to be controversial, however, as it includes proposals that are unpopular with Republicans and didn’t appear in the Senate text.

House Republicans complain that much of the legislation was developed behind closed doors, without public hearings or consultations, and with no committee process.

They say it is weak on China, overly focused on unrelated issues like climate change, human rights and social inequality, and stuffed with Democrat-sponsored trade provisions they reject.

“This partisan bill does nothing to hold China accountable for its predatory trade practices, enforce President (Donald) Trump’s historic agreement to stop China’s cheating on trade, or counter China’s trade aggression around the world,” Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement.

He accused Biden of being “content to sit on the sidelines” while foreign countries block U.S. farmers and businesspeople from competing on a level playing field.

‘3,000-page giveaway’

“Democrats have jammed this nearly 3,000-page giveaway with billions of dollars of new trade assistance welfare and lavish health care subsidies that discourage the jobless from connecting to work,” Brady added.

“They hold the world’s poorest countries hostage to Green New Deal demands, and make it harder for American manufacturers to qualify for lower tariffs on products needed to compete and win, both here and abroad.”

Democrats don’t need House Republican support to pass the bill, but a unanimous rejection from the opposition will complicate its passage to Biden’s desk.

It is destined for a “conference committee” to merge the bills from both chambers, with Senate Republicans especially influential since at least 10 of them will be needed to advance it from the upper chamber.

Republican Todd Young, the senior senator for Indiana, told reporters Thursday he and his colleagues would send House Republicans “a much better option to vote on in the next couple of months.”

“If instead, the House had taken an approach using regular order, as we did in the Senate, with fulsome opportunity for bipartisan input, they’d have a better work product and they would have earned a lot of Republican votes,” he said.

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