By Victor Reklaitis
A key House committee on Tuesday made amendments to bipartisan legislation that aims to boost American science and technology programs and counter China’s growing influence, with the action coming after the Senate last week voted 68-32 in favor of a related bill.
A measure aimed at aiding the U.S. semiconductor industry and other high-tech sectors might end up getting signed into law by President Joe Biden this summer — earlier than initially expected. Previously, analysts had predicted any bill targeting chips and China likely would get rolled into the big infrastructure package that Washington might deliver this fall.
The amendments were made Tuesday by the House Science Committee as it worked to advance bills titled the National Science Foundation for the Future Act and the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act.
Over in the Senate, the $250 billion bill approved last week is known as the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act , and it provides $52 billion for the semiconductor industry /zigman2/quotes/200571902/composite SMH -1.96% /zigman2/quotes/209255350/composite SOXX -2.15% and incorporates an earlier bipartisan measure known as the Endless Frontier Act.
The House Science Committee’s top Republican, Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, said in his opening remarks on Tuesday that it’s “gratifying to see that there’s now momentum on both sides of the aisle in the House and the Senate for legislation to secure our global scientific and technological leadership.”
“China has likely surpassed the U.S. in total R&D spending and through both investment and theft is working to overtake us as the global leader in science and technology,” Lucas said.
Meanwhile, the panel’s chairwoman, Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, stressed that she favored the House legislation over other approaches.
“If we are to remain the world’s leader in science and technology, we need to act now, but we shouldn’t act rashly,” she said. “Instead of trying to copy the efforts of our emerging competitors, we should be doubling down on the proven innovation engines we have at the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. The bills before us today do just that.”
But Johnson also said last week that she thinks U.S. lawmakers “can come together to forge a good path forward for NSF, and I hope we will have the opportunity in a House-Senate conference.”
It’s “theoretically doable” that other House committees that have jurisdiction on these issues will do their work “in the next two months before the August recess,” analysts at Capital Alpha Partners said in a recent note.
“We had initially expected Endless Frontier to be rolled up into the infrastructure plan, but from what we have seen so far, it now seems more likely on a standalone basis in regular order,” the analysts added. That would mean “full consideration by the various committees on the House side culminating in passage on the floor and a House-Senate conference to work out the differences between the two chambers.”
“The infrastructure track has taken longer than we initially expected,” Capital Alpha’s team also said.
A Bloomberg News report last week said the House’s legislation is expected to end up similar enough to the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competition Act to allow them to be reconciled and hand a bipartisan win to Biden in August.