Republicans threatening to delay action on Senate’s China bill

Daniel Flatley and Laura Litvan
Bloomberg

Senate Republicans are threatening to hold up a vote on a sweeping bill to bolster U.S. economic competitiveness and confront China’s rise unless Majority Leader Chuck Schumer allows them to offer more changes.

Schumer is pressing to wrap up work this week on the legislation, which would plow more than $100 billion into U.S. research and development and provide $52 billion to foster domestic semiconductor manufacturing. It also includes provisions designed to stem China’s reach into U.S. universities and companies.

Senator Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, listens to testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, Wednesday, May 12, 2021 on Capitol Hill.

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Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho was urging his GOP colleagues to vote against moving ahead with the legislation unless a trade amendment he had worked out with Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon was brought up for inclusion in the overall legislation, according to two people familiar with the matter.

“I haven’t got a vote yet,” Crapo told reporters.

The full Senate has been working through a handful of amendments this week and numerous Republican senators have been insisting that Schumer allow votes on some of the changes they want in the legislation, which generally has bipartisan support.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida told his colleagues at a Senate GOP lunch on Wednesday that he wanted votes on some of the security measures he’s proposed to help protect U.S. intellectual property from theft. In addition, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is seeking support for his proposed amendments, including one that would require the U.S. get stakes in semiconductor manufacturers that receive aid.

Crapo had worked with Wyden on the trade provision, which takes aim at trade imbalances between the U.S. and China, and was expecting it to be included in the final package. Schumer excluded it because, he said, it wasn’t germane to the underlying bill.

Schumer has said he wants the bill completed by the weekend, before the start of a week-long Senate break. A vote to end debate and proceed to consideration of the legislation could be held as soon as Thursday but requires 60 votes to succeed. In a Senate divided equally by party, that means at least 10 Republicans would have to vote to end debate.

Schumer on Wednesday said the legislation is vital in addressing the worsening shortage of computer chips affecting American automakers and other manufacturers, and boosting investment in basic science research that now amounts to less than 1% of U.S. gross domestic product.

“While all of this is happening, the Chinese Communist Party spends nearly 2.5% on research and has pledged to the world that they will increase scientific investments by 10% in the future,” Schumer said Wednesday morning on the Senate floor. “If that happens unchallenged, the days of America leading the world in science innovation, the days of America being the leading economic power in the world will be over and we’ll regret it.”

The House is still working on its own version and it could be tougher to muster enough support for a final bill. House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat, wrote an op-ed for the journal Issues in Science and Technology saying that the Senate measure didn’t take the right approach for the National Science Foundation. Many House Republicans criticized the Senate bill, saying it spends too much money and is too soft on China.