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Senate passes broad research and development bill

Measure would address technology competition with China by directing billions to the National Science Foundation and on microchips

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., got a big victory with the passage of his Innovation and Competition Act.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., got a big victory with the passage of his Innovation and Competition Act. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate on Tuesday passed, 68-32, bipartisan legislation aimed at giving the U.S. an edge over China in the scientific research and development of emerging technologies.

The legislation, sponsored by Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and GOP Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, began as a targeted funding boost to help the National Science Foundation study artificial intelligence, quantum computing and advanced energy, but grew over weeks on the Senate floor to include new funding and numerous China-related policy provisions.

In the end, it included packages by the committees on Foreign Relations, Banking, and Homeland Security and Government Affairs in addition to the core research and development legislation, originally approved by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The legislation authorizes $81 billion for NSF over the next five fiscal cycles, including $29 billion for a new directorate, as well as $17 billion for the Energy Department and $17.5 billion for the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It also appropriates $52 billion in subsidies for the struggling U.S. semiconductor industry.

[Research and development ambitions will test bipartisanship]

The bill includes several key research security provisions, including a requirement that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, known as CFIUS, review foreign contributions to U.S. colleges and universities over $1 million.

The bill also sets criminal penalties for researchers who fail to disclose foreign support for their projects and bolsters the State Department’s ability to deny suspicious visa applications for researchers interested in sensitive technologies. It would also require sanctions in response to foreign theft of U.S. intellectual property or cyberattacks on U.S. research networks.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday morning, Schumer called the legislation “a statement of faith in America’s ability to seize the opportunities of the 21st century.”

“If we want American workers and American companies to keep leading the world, the federal government must invest in science, basic research and innovation just as we did decades after the second World War,” Schumer said.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said the bill was an “imperfect approach to an extremely consequential challenge.” McConnell complained that Schumer did not allow more votes on Republican amendments to the bill, but he voted for it anyway. 

The bill’s prospects for becoming law are murky. The White House has expressed support, but the House companion bill has yet to advance. Meanwhile, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee is completing work on a counterproposal as well.

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