Madeline Wasson is a senior at Georgetown University in Washington DC studying Women’s and Gender Studies with a minor in Philosophy. She is the Managing Editor of Bossier Magazine on Georgetown’s campus, and has written for other publications including Grain of Salt Magazine and KCW London. Her favorite topics to cover include gender and sexuality, social justice, and media/entertainment.
This Tuesday (8th June) the typically intensely divided United States Senate passed a bipartisan bill focused on technological advancement, specifically in the realms of artificial intelligence and semiconductor development. After days of debate over the $250 billion bill and its various proposed amendments, the US Innovation and Competition Act successfully passed through with a 68-32 vote. The bill, which was first introduced last year as the Endless Frontier Act, was reintroduced this past April.
The Senate’s vote on the US Innovation and Competition Act coincidentally occurred on the same day the Biden Administration put out a statement calling for an increase in incentives for semiconductor research and manufacturing. According to the Semiconductor Industry Association, the percentage of global manufacturing of semiconductors that occurs in the US has dropped from 37% in 1990 to 12% presently.
This decline has been a large motivator for the US government to expand this industry in order to remain competitive against other countries, specifically China. The manufacturing of semiconductors is especially important as a global shortage of the products has been steadily increasing over the last year, resulting in skyrocketing consumer prices.
One of the major points of contention in this piece of legislation is it’s creation and funding of a new branch in the National Science Foundation (NSF) which would focus on research regarding artificial intelligence and quantum science. Originally the bill allotted $100 billion to the development of this directorate, however after debate the Senate voted to approve a provision of $29 billion allotted over the next five years for the creation of the new branch and $52 billion for various programs within the sector.
Apprehension on funding came from lawmakers on both sides who believed this new direction would reorient the NSF away from it’s basic scientific research. Funds were redistributed to the Department of Energy’s regional laboratories and the Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Additional provisions in the bill include a ban on downloading the popular social media app TikTok onto government devices, $10 billion designated to NASA’s lunar landing program, and a block on purchases of drones manufactured and sold by Chinese government backed corporations. Additionally, aspects of the bill strive to counter some of the anti-Asian rhetoric that has arisen out of the COVID-19 pandemic and led to a spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans over the last year. For example, a part of the bill allocates federal funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in order to further investigations into the origins of the virus and possible connections to the lab’s research.
There are still steps to be taken before the US Innovation and Competition Act can land on President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, where it faces varying degrees of support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Democratic Congresswoman representing Texas’s 30th district, who serves as Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has previously expressed public disdain for the Endless Frontier Act, and has the power to block the bill’s advancement in the House. So far representatives have been taking a piecemeal approach to it’s consideration of the US Innovation and Competition Act, considering the bill in chunks rather than all at once. In order for the bill to become law, however, the precise language that was approved by the Senate must also be approved by the House. A vote on the bill is currently set for next Tuesday, the 15th of June.
“As our nation works to recover from the worst economic and public health crisis of our lifetimes, now is the time to make these major investments in our long-term economic resilience and competitiveness,” stated the Biden administration in their report sent out on June 8th. Many lawmakers see the US Innovation and Technology Act as an opportunity for the United States to reassert their dominance in global technology manufacturing, especially as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
However the division in US politics offers a distinct challenge to the passage of this legislation, and it will be interesting to witness how this plays out in the House over the next week.