The Senate on Thursday shot down a Republican push to keep China‘s hands off nearly $200 billion of new taxpayer investments in technology research and development.
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, said the Senate will feel “pretty stupid” if it discovers China stole the intellectual property created under the legislation, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, that aims to develop more American-made technology. Mr. Rubio said China’s espionage had already successfully stolen American research and warned that it would happen again.
“It is incumbent upon us to make sure we have in place safeguards so they cannot keep doing this to us,” Mr. Rubio said on the Senate floor, pointing to a chart about Chinese espionage efforts. “What is the point of putting up $200 billion of American public taxpayer money on pursuing all of this research if we’re going to allow the Chinese to steal it?”
Under the bill, the U.S. would spend about $190 billion to try to strengthen domestic technology markets, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The bill would increase taxpayer spending by $54.2 billion to build capacity to make semiconductors, microchips and telecommunications tech inside the United States.
Seven Republicans led by Mr. Rubio pushed an amendment that he argued would better protect the resulting intellectual property. The amendment sought to create a counterintelligence screening and certification process for the billions of dollars of new spending, led by the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI and the Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center.
The amendment failed by a 55-to-40 vote when Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat, moved to kill the measure. Ms. Cantwell argued that probing counterintelligence concerns about Chinese investments was not worth the Director of National Intelligence’s time. Ms. Cantwell said she and other senators already added sufficient safeguards to the bill.
“I got news for you. I want the national director of intelligence to be focusing on cybersecurity,” Ms. Cantwell said as she took action to kill Mr. Rubio’s amendment. “In case you didn’t see, we just had a major pipeline incident. It’s not the first incident, it’s many incidents in which foreign governments have threatened our nation, our sources of power, basically by infiltrating our system.”
She added that she would rather the head of the intelligence community focus on Iran, Russia, North Korea, Syria, and terrorism instead of talking to university officials about investments they have received.
While senators harboring concerns about China failed to get Mr. Rubio’s desired safeguards for new research, some of those same lawmakers succeeded in routing billions of dollars toward federal officials whom the senators think can best protect the taxpayer cash.
The Endless Frontier Act originally proposed $100 billion in spending for the National Science Foundation, which some Republican senators said could not be trusted to safeguard the money from scientists compromised by China. A battle over the funding ensued, and the funding swelled to nearer to $200 billion with portions diverted away from the science foundation.
Mr. Rubio and Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, both said the funding originally slated for basic research at the science foundation would be better protected from China and better used by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Department of Defense’s research and development arm.
Mr. Sasse amended the bill to double DARPA’s budget over the next five years — to $7 billion — and his amendment passed by a vote of 67-30 on Wednesday evening.
“Modern war isn’t just about enemy landings, it’s about enemy hackings,” Mr. Sasse said in a statement following the amendment’s passage. “The Chinese Communist Party is pouring money into automated machine learning, [artificial intelligence], and quantum computing because they want to be the world’s preeminent superpower. DARPA’s job is to make sure that doesn’t happen.”