Opinion: From the Olympics to trade, Congress takes aim at China

An employee works at a factory of Jiejie Semiconductor Company in Nantong, in eastern China's Jiangsu province, on March 17, 2021. (AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

caption arrowCaption
An employee works at a factory of Jiejie Semiconductor Company in Nantong, in eastern China's Jiangsu province, on March 17, 2021. (AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

With the Build Back Better package stalled, and a major voting rights bill blocked by a GOP filibuster, Democrats on Capitol Hill this week went to Plan C — for China. They unveiled a massive legislative package designed to improve U.S. economic competitiveness with Beijing, headlined by over $50 billion in subsidies to spur domestic semiconductor manufacturing.

The plan also includes various measures to help bolster domestic supply chains, a now-familiar phrase for Americans in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak.

“COVID-19 showed us all how critical resilient supply chains are for consumers and businesses,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee, whose supply chain bill was included as part of the competitiveness package.

If this effort sounds familiar, it’s because the U.S. Senate passed a similar package last June, just days after a KIA plant in Georgia had to suspend operations because of a shortage of semiconductor chips.

“American dependence on foreign suppliers of semiconductors is a strategic vulnerability,” Georgia Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock declared at the time.

The Senate competitiveness bill passed on a strong bipartisan vote of 68-32 — whether that can be repeated in this midterm election year is unclear.

But if there is one foreign policy matter right now which provides some common ground between the parties, it is pushing back against the Chinese.

For a number of Republicans, that has included a call to boycott the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“China is our number one competitor,” U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point said in December. “They are a threat to our freedoms.”

Just last week, Ferguson was one of a dozen Georgia lawmakers who joined a bipartisan letter signed by 137 House members, urging the Biden Administration to get tough on the Chinese when it comes to trade.

“We strongly support tough and effective action to address China’s unfair trade practices,” the group wrote.

But trade with China is a tricky issue, as those same Georgia lawmakers also asked the feds to ease off on extra import duties levied on Chinese products coming into the U.S. because those tariffs have increased costs for American businesses and consumers.

And that’s the policy conundrum. While Donald Trump eagerly slapped new tariffs on China, their cost to consumers — and the retaliation which hit U.S. agriculture — did not help the economy overall.

Want to get tough with China? Sounds simple enough — but it also could create unwanted collateral economic damage.

That might leave the China competitiveness bill as a possible policy alternative. We’ll see in coming months whether the two parties can get it to the President’s desk.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com