Congress has within its grasp the chance to do something substantive to help fight inflation, address supply chain issues, and create some jobs in the U.S. in computer chip manufacturing. The rhetoric around the measure—nicknamed the China competiveness bill—has been jingoistic at times, but the U.S. Senate’s United States Innovation and Competition Act and the House version, known as the America COMPETES Act, have actual merit in addressing supply-chain vulnerabilities and catching the nation up in the manufacture of the product that is pretty much making the world function right now.
Each chamber has passed its version of the bill, and Democratic leaders have announced the members that will be on the conference committee, from the House, and Senate, with the goal of a supposed “compromise to boost computer chip industry.” At least that’s how the AP is reporting it. Except there’s no compromise with Republicans in the offing, as usual.
“Without major concessions and changes from House Democrats, this legislation has no chance of becoming law,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell declared on April 7, the day House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced their conference members. In other words, it’s the usual definition of “compromise” for Republicans: total Democratic capitulation.
In a “background” note, McConnell’s statement listed the Republican senators who “will be officially named to the conference committee at a later date,” that later date remaining undetermined. If it ever arrives.
Listen and subscribe to Daily Kos' The Brief podcast with Markos Moulitsas and Kerry Eleveld
This is potentially the last big bill that President Joe Biden could claim as a big win in November, so of course McConnell has no intention of helping him. Because of Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, McConnell can do that—all he needs to do is make sure fewer than 10 of his Republicans defect to help Democrats. That’s because this bill, like most legislation, is subject to a Republican filibuster which takes 60 votes to break. Now that we’re months away from another election, McConnell’s not going to let anything come easily.
McConnell claims that the House bill has “Green New Deal follies to Big Labor handouts to marijuana banking, the House Democrats’ competing bill drags these efforts leftward and backward.” He’s only going to move forward “with multiple motions to instruct conferees”—a floor process in the Senate he can make drag on as long as possible.
Both bills authorize a $52 billion investment in the semiconductor industry, with federal grants and loans to subsidize building and renovating plants. There’s $160 billion or so for research and development agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, and funding to reduce STEM workforce gaps. There’s $29 billion in the Senate bill to expand research and development in artificial intelligence and robotics, and a $13.3 bill provision in the House bill that would create a new directorate to ensure that climate change, sustainability, and social and economic inequality are incorporated. That’s part of what McConnell is bitching about—trying to save the planet.
That, of course, isn’t all: The House bill is forward-looking, with funding to help companies and local government and tribes in building and relocating manufacturing plants; job retraining and financial assistance for workers who’ve been displaced by increased imports; and a new visa category for entrepreneurs.
“This would be the largest five-year commitment to public R&D in our nation’s history,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation chair told the Seattle Times. “We need it for the job growth. We need it to stay competitive.”
But McConnell can’t have that on the Democrats’ watch. So no, “Congress” isn’t looking for a “compromise” between the House and Senate on this legislation. Democrats are fighting for the nation’s future, while McConnell is fighting to regain the Senate.