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Senate advances science and tech bill

Measure would spend more than $100 billion over five years to invest in technologies to compete with China

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., led the bipartisan effort to write the bill aimed at competing with China in science and technology.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., led the bipartisan effort to write the bill aimed at competing with China in science and technology. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate’s scientific research and development package got past a key hurdle on Thursday as the chamber voted 68-30 to invoke cloture on a substitute amendment by Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, setting the legislation up for possible final passage later in the day.

The sprawling substitute amendment, amended over the course of two weeks on the Senate floor to include proposals by both Republicans and Democrats, would authorize more than $100 billion in the next five fiscal years for a whole-of-government effort to compete with China’s quest for dominance in emerging fields of science and technology.

The amendment would also direct $56 billion to boost U.S. semiconductor production and other telecommunications manufacturing, and includes bipartisan, China-targeted provisions authored by the leaders of the committees on Commerce, Science and Transportation; Foreign Relations; Banking; and Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

The proposal’s prospects appear strong, but timing remains murky. Schumer, D-N.Y., who sponsored the underlying bill with GOP Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, said on the floor that he thought final passage could occur later on Thursday following additional amendment votes.

“I hope my colleagues have seen our commitment in drafting and developing this legislation in total concert with the other side of the aisle,” Schumer said. “With cooperation from our Republican colleagues, we can finish this bill today and I hope we do.”

[Biden backs $100 billion to close digital divide]

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday morning that he expects the measure to pass this week, but said minutes later on the Senate floor that work on the bill remains “incomplete” and implored Schumer to allow further votes, including one on an amendment proposed by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, the top Republican on the Finance Committee.

“There’s no excuse for cutting debate off prematurely,” McConnell said.

Schumer and Crapo appeared to strike a deal on consideration of the amendment during a break in the vote that lasted nearly four hours before cloture was invoked. McConnell voted aye before Crapo took to the floor to discuss his amendment, which deals with trade.

The agreement on the amendment is “an example of bipartisanship that can be achieved” in the Senate, Crapo said.

The substitute amendment’s key provisions include an increase in authorized funding for the National Science Foundation and the establishment of a new NSF directorate to focus on fields key to global competition such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing. It would also establish regional technology hubs throughout the country to coordinate research.

The amendment would also seek to cut off China’s influence on, and access to, U.S. research and development by requiring the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, known as CFIUS, to review foreign contributions to U.S. colleges and universities over $1 million.

The substitute amendment would also set criminal penalties for researchers who fail to disclose foreign support on their grant applications and authorize the State Department to deny dubious visa applicants seeking access to sensitive technologies. And it would require sanctions in response to foreign intellectual property theft or cyberattacks on U.S. research networks.

Late Wednesday, lawmakers adopted an amendment by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., to authorize $17.5 billion over five fiscal years for the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, to research fields of science specified in the bill, including artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

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