House and Senate negotiators will soon go to conference in an effort to send bipartisan legislation aimed at advancing U.S. competitiveness in science and technology to President Joe Biden’s desk, Democratic leaders announced late Wednesday.
But it’s unclear exactly which pieces of legislation each body will bring to the conference.
The Senate in June passed legislation that would authorize around $200 billion in spending for the National Science Foundation, the Energy Department and other government agencies tasked with research and development in 21st-century fields of technology such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robotics and cybersecurity.
The Senate bill, backed by Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, would also approve $52 billion in spending to bolster the struggling U.S. semiconductor industry. The bill, originally known as the Endless Frontier Act, is now the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, or USICA.
But the House has not passed a companion measure, with committee leaders opting instead to advance separate bills that would add funding specifically for the Energy Department and National Science Foundation. Those bills, which passed the House in June, are likely to make up the centerpiece of the chamber’s contribution to the conference.
Still, the Senate bill includes policy-heavy contributions from the Banking and Foreign Relations committees that don’t have a clear-cut equivalent in the House. And the House has not approved the semiconductor funding, which many lawmakers consider crucial amid supply chain issues affecting wide swaths of the U.S. economy.
A spokesperson for Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not respond to questions about which bills the House would bring to conference.
The decision by Schumer and Pelosi came after Republicans objected to attaching the Senate innovation bill to the annual defense authorization bill. Despite both chambers passing their versions in early summer, opportunities to send a single bill to the White House have dwindled as infrastructure and budget debates have taken precedence.
“After Senate Republicans made it clear they would block the inclusion of USICA on the [defense authorization bill], we have decided that the best way to get an agreement will be through the conference process,” Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki urged leaders in both chambers to work quickly on advancing a final bill to Biden’s desk.
“This is a big step forward for [Biden’s] plan to strengthen manufacturing, research and development, and our supply chains — and create good-paying union jobs,” Psaki said on Twitter. “USICA is going to help us win the economic race against China for the 21st century.”