Senate passes bill to boost U.S. computer chips production

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., flanked by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., speaks to reporters Tuesday after the Senate took a procedural vote advancing a $280 billion bill designed to boost the U.S. semiconductor industry and to accelerate high tech research that backers say will be critical to the economy in future decades. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., flanked by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., speaks to reporters Tuesday after the Senate took a procedural vote advancing a $280 billion bill designed to boost the U.S. semiconductor industry and to accelerate high tech research that backers say will be critical to the economy in future decades. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate signed off on a scaled-down version of a sweeping economic development package that includes $52 billion to increase the domestic manufacturing of computer chips plus new programs to boost science research and innovation. But some of the measure’s strongest language regarding helping America’s businesses and industries compete with China was dropped.

That doesn’t bother Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who served on the conference committee that was originally tasked with ironing out an agreement between the two chambers’ initial China competition proposals. He said the downsized version still carries all of his priorities, including money to help ensure the Kia car plant in West Point, Georgia, and other manufacturers aren’t forced to shut down because of the scarcity of semiconductors.

“The things I fought for are in the bill, and this is going to have a major impact on the people in the state of Georgia, not to mention the national security implications,” Warnock, a Democrat from Atlanta, said prior to the vote. “Not only should Kia not be waiting on microchips from other countries, it is not good for us to be waiting on foreign actors to produce chips for our weapons system. It’s a real problem, and so I’m glad that we’re getting this over the finish line.”

The Senate vote was 64-33, with 16 Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the measure.

In addition to the computer chip dollars, the package also would create a National Supply Chain Database to help small businesses scout for resources and allocate $81 billion over the next five years to the National Science Foundation for research and innovation. The bill includes language to ensure a portion of the money would be set aside for historically Black colleges and other minority-serving institutions plus those in rural areas.

The House is expected to bring the legislation to the floor Thursday, meaning President Joe Biden could have a bill to sign into law by the end of the week.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, has also been involved in discussions on the legislation as a member of the conference committee. He had initially pushed for the measure to include strong language condemning China and said he was disappointed to hear those provisions were left out of the slimmed-down package now heading to the House floor.

Still, he said he is open to supporting the measure and will review the language sent over by the Senate.

“I wish we could have done more with China, but at the same time the microchips portion of it will be extremely important,” Carter said recently. “In fact, we had a security briefing where they emphasized to us over and over just how important it was that we get something done as soon as possible with this. So it’s something that I can support.”