Rep. Ro Khanna had high hopes for a multibillion-dollar U.S. innovation bill he helped write: It was bipartisan from the start and was passed by both branches of Congress.
But as lawmakers seek to bring compromise legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk, partisanship is holding up the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said at the end of June he won’t support it — though he voted for a version last year — as long as Democrats pursue their priorities on climate, energy and taxes in the budget reconciliation bill.
In an interview with MarketWatch on Thursday, Khanna — a Democratic representative from Silicon Valley — called the holdup “malpractice” and a “dereliction of duty of the United States Congress.” McConnell’s office did not return a request for comment.
Khanna laid out three options for moving forward with what he calls “the largest investment in science, technology and advanced manufacturing since the Kennedy years.”
Khanna’s first and preferred option is to pass the compromise legislation in the Senate and ensure two or three key priorities from the House version are included. Even after reports Thursday that Sen. Chuck Schumer is telling senators to expect a preliminary vote next week on a slimmed-down innovation bill, Khanna said he remains hopeful about the passage of a more robust bill.
The congressman said the second option is to pass the Senate version of the bill in the House of Representatives, where Democrats have the necessary votes. But this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said at a press briefing that they would want to pursue a compromise bill instead.
The third option is Khanna’s least favorite: Cleave off the $52 billion CHIPS Act and pass just that. The congressman said the bill is critical to help U.S. semiconductor manufacturing the delay in passing it has already prompted Intel Corp.
to delay its groundbreaking on a chip plant in Ohio.
Khanna said that option — which the White House is pushing for and analysts are saying may be the most likely to happen this year — falls short of what he thinks this country needs to compete with the rest of the world.
“There is no more urgent task than to build our structural capability,” he said. He added that while countries such as China have concrete tech policies, “we have done almost nothing to build our industrial base for the next generation.”
Besides helping bring benefits of the technology age to the rest of the nation, the full tech innovation bill is “about making America a leader in producing things again,” the congressman said. Among other things, the bill includes $100 billion for the National Science Foundation over five years to fund research and development in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, synthetic biology, clean tech and more. The bill also includes billions of dollars for the creation of 10 tech hubs around the nation.
All of it is to help ensure the U.S. doesn’t fall behind in important and emerging technology, Khanna said. “I want the world to use U.S. technology,” he said.
Despite the current partisanship that’s holding up the bill, the congressman said he is convinced that “making things in America” and rebalancing trade with China are two themes that can go toward helping unite a polarized nation. “This can span the spectrum and appeal to the Bernie base and to the MAGA base,” he said, referring to Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and supporters of former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” agenda.