Under the shadow of growing tensions with Beijing, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill that would help the United States remain economically competitive with China. It will now need to be reconciled with similar legislation that passed the Senate last year.
Congress must not allow partisan squabbles to scuttle this vital proposal.
Republicans, who supported the U.S. Senate’s United States Innovation and Competition Act, have so far turned their back on the House version, known as the America COMPETES Act, saying the bill includes unacceptable provisions related to labor, foreign policy and climate change.
While differences exist — and their merits are worth debating — both bills promise to fund the critical need to address supply-chain vulnerabilities and increase computer chip production in the U.S. They also include a major investment in ensuring America’s place as the leader in scientific research and innovation.
These similarities should be the focus, said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who heads the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Both bills call for a $52 billion investment in the semiconductor industry, about $160 billion for research and development agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, as well as funding to reduce STEM workforce gaps.
“This would be the largest five-year commitment to public R&D in our nation’s history,” Cantwell said. “We need it for the job growth. We need it to stay competitive.”
The legislation would also create some manufacturing jobs in the U.S., but the benefit to American workers may be strongest in improved protection from global market volatility, said Jeffrey Kucik, an associate professor at the University of Arizona.
“It’s about insulating the domestic market from unpredictable global forces,” he said. “Whether that’s the pandemic, or the Great Recession, or shocks associated with the escalation of the U.S.-China trade war.”
For their part, Chinese officials have repeatedly labeled these legislative efforts as the product of a “Cold War mentality.”
It was ironic, then, to see President Xi Jinping of China and Russian President Vladimir Putin warmly meet on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Even more so was their joint statement, which sent a message of cooperation between the two countries not seen since Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong.
Their statement, which includes support for each other’s foreign policies, underlines the precarious situation surrounding existential threats to Ukraine and Taiwan. It also underlines the need for Congress to act.
These bills are not about viewing the U.S. relationship with China as a Cold War zero-sum game. They are smart efforts to ensure America remains competitive. However, in working together, Republicans and Democrats can send their own message of unity in the face of global challenges.