On Friday, the House passed the COMPETES Act, a sweeping bill designed to enhance the United States’ competitiveness with China in manufacturing and technology. The bill passed in a 222-210 vote, mostly along party lines.
The COMPETES Act includes $52 billion for chip manufacturing, $45 billion for strengthening key supply chains, and $160 billion for scientific research and innovation. The version of the bill passed by the House also includes two major immigration provisions: a new visa category for entrepreneurs and a path to permanent residence for immigrants who earn a STEM Ph.D. in the United States.
“As Chairwoman of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson in a statement, “I am especially proud of our strong bipartisan bills included in this package. I often refer to this committee as the committee of the future. It is in that spirit that we approached this legislation, to usher in a bold and prosperous future for American competitiveness.”
The massive infusion of money into R&D is largely in response to China’s increasing technological prowess. As China has gotten richer, it has poured money into a range of emerging technologies from gene-editing to hypersonics to artificial intelligence. Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it clear that he wants to turn the country into a technological superpower, and plans like Made in China 2025 and China Standards 2035 spell out how Beijing intends to make that dream a reality. This has alarmed the United States, which increasingly sees China as a geopolitical and ideological competitor.
“We’ve just got to compete. And we’ve got to hopefully feel like we’re a little step ahead. And that’s really a big goal,” Johnson said in an interview with NPR. “Because as you know, our society is very different in the kind of freedom versus communism type of behaviors.”
Another impetus behind the COMPETES Act is the supply chain issues wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Chips, also known as semiconductors, are a major concern given their importance to modern technology and the ongoing chip shortage. The United States accounts for a small fraction of global chips production, with Taiwan dominating, but lawmakers are hoping to change that. Hence the bill included the CHIPS Act which boosts funding for chip research, development, and manufacturing in the United States.
The Senate already passed its own version of the bill, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act last June. While USICA got enough Republican votes to overcome the filibuster, there are significant differences with the House version that will have to be resolved before a competitiveness bill reaches the president’s desk. The stage is set for a major test of bipartisanship when it comes to competing with China.