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‘Chips-plus’ bill advances toward final passage in Senate

Measure could reach Biden’s desk before August recess

Several Republicans switched votes on an economic competitiveness package after Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., added other science-related provisions.
Several Republicans switched votes on an economic competitiveness package after Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., added other science-related provisions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

An economic competitiveness package meant to boost U.S. semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research is on track to pass the Senate this week after overcoming a filibuster on Tuesday.

The Senate voted 64-32 to invoke cloture, limiting debate on the measure and teeing it up for final passage by Wednesday, in time for the House to send it to President Joe Biden’s desk before the August recess.

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in floor remarks ahead of Tuesday’s vote that it would set up work to wrap on the bill “before the end of the week.” Schumer said the moment was several years in the making and described the package as “one of the most consequential bipartisan achievements of this Congress.”

The procedural vote to move forward with the bill known as “chips-plus” was delayed after severe thunderstorms disrupted senators commuting back to Washington on Monday evening. Senators gave unanimous consent Tuesday night to speed up final passage to Wednesday, after they vote on a budget point of order that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is expected to raise. The two votes are set for 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The bill is a trimmed-down version of a broader economic competitiveness package the Senate passed last year. After bicameral conference negotiations to resolve differences between that measure and a House-passed version hit snags, including on trade, the Senate pulled out chips and science provisions with the hopes of wrapping up a package by the time lawmakers left for their summer break.

The chips-plus package includes $54 billion in five-year grants for semiconductor manufacturing and research as well as 5G wireless deployment, a 25 percent tax credit for investments in semiconductor manufacturing facilities through 2026, funding authorization for the National Science Foundation and other science-focused measures from a bill Schumer worked on with Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana.

Schumer added the science provisions back into the package after holding a test vote last week to gauge their GOP support. The motion to proceed was adopted on a 64-34 vote, with 16 Republicans on board.

The vote tally shifted somewhat Tuesday after several senators tested positive for COVID-19, meaning they’ll need to isolate for several days. Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, both announced Monday that they had tested positive.

Seventeen Republican senators voted for cloture Tuesday. The bill’s backers won support for cloture from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who initially voted against the motion to proceed last week when it wasn’t clear what the Senate substitute ultimately would look like.

GOP Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Richard M. Burr of North Carolina also flipped their votes to support cloture, after voting “no” on the motion to proceed last week. South Dakota GOP Sen. Mike Rounds also reversed himself from last week but went the opposite way, voting against cloture on Tuesday.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., who was absent for last week’s vote on the motion to proceed, voted “no” on cloture Tuesday.

As expected, Sanders was the only member of the Democratic caucus to vote against advancing the chips bill, which he has derided as “corporate welfare.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a letter to colleagues last week that she was “optimistic” that the House could take up the slimmed-down bill as early as this week, which would clear it before members are scheduled to leave town Friday for their summer recess.

Conference committee work

As senators prepared to move ahead on the smaller package Tuesday, Schumer said lawmakers will continue working on pieces of the original Senate and House packages that didn’t make it into the trimmed chips and science bill. He said he intends to put a final product of the conference committee on the Senate floor at some point.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, attempted to pull another piece from those conference negotiations and get it into the chips-plus package before final passage. He asked unanimous consent Tuesday to amend the bill and include a “skinnied-down” version of his legislation intended to stop foreign adversaries like China from stealing taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property.

Portman said he agreed to scale back the provisions to get broad support and guarantee passage in the House. But Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, objected to his request, saying disagreements on the language from the House Science, Space and Technology and Homeland Security committees and both chambers’ Judiciary panels hadn’t been settled.

Cantwell said she would keep working with Portman to get the legislation passed, saying it could move as part of a final product from the broader conference negotiations.

Cantwell urged colleagues to “double down” on wrapping up what’s left of that work. “Then we will have a robust policy,” she said. “Not just the incentives, not just the R&D — but a variety of issues addressed as it deals with our competitiveness.”

Portman left the floor clearly taken aback that his amendment was rejected after earlier assurances it would be approved, saying the Democrats would have to explain what changed.

He said he would still vote for the bill on final passage despite his amendment not getting in because of its importance to Ohio, where chipmaker Intel Corp. delayed construction of a semiconductor plant while waiting to see if Congress would approve the subsidies.

Of Cantwell’s offer to work on it in the broader conference committee, Portman said, “I hope that’s real.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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