The Senate voted 68-32 on Tuesday to authorize spending about $250 billion in taxpayer dollars on research and development to counter China’s rising global influence.
The bill championed by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer would spend about $190 billion to strengthen U.S. technology markets and $54 billion for federal programs to produce semiconductors, microchips and telecom equipment, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate.
“When all is said and done, the bill will go down as one of the most important things this chamber has done in a very long time; a statement of faith in America’s ability to seize the opportunities of the 21st century,” Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “The ambitions of this legislation are large, but the premise is simple: 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.”
The legislation originally proposed $100 billion for the National Science Foundation, an agency that some Republican senators said could not be trusted to safeguard the money from scientists compromised by China. A funding fight over the Endless Frontier Act swelled the spending, with portions diverted away from the foundation.
Late last month, Republicans prevented the bill from passing. One of the senators objecting to the bill, Mike Lee of Utah, noted it had grown from 160 pages to more than 2,300.
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he thought the bill, renamed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, was still incomplete.
“It includes several smart, targeted measures but leaves many more on the table, and so it will advance as an imperfect approach to an extremely consequential challenge,” said the Kentucky Republican, who voted to pass the bill. “One thing this legislation did demonstrate extremely well, however, was that the rules of the Senate don’t stand in the way of bipartisan legislating. Needless to say, final passage of this legislation cannot be the Senate’s final word, final word on our competition with China. It certainly won’t be mine.”
Other Republicans, such as Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, were more supportive of the bill.
“This is an opportunity for the United States to strike a blow on behalf of answering the unfair competition that we are seeing from communist China,” Mr. Wicker said. “And it’s an opportunity to do, to have a game-changer in terms of geographic diversity in our research efforts.”
Mr. Schumer said the bipartisan support showed that democracies are not a relic of the past and called the bill potentially “the turning point for American leadership in the 21st century.”