Warnock to congressional leaders: Don’t let China competition bill fall apart

WASHINGTON — The Senate should not allow partisan bickering to derail negotiations on a China competitiveness bill, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock says in new letter to the chamber’s highest-ranking members.

Writing to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Warnock said he and others have spent almost a year working on legislation that would address the semiconductor shortage and other supply-chain issues while also boosting American research and innovation. That package should be on a fast track, Warnock wrote, but politics seems to be getting in the way of progress.

“This historic bipartisan legislation is too vital to be used to score political points, and employing tactics to derail this critical and overwhelmingly bipartisan bill is shameful,” Warnock’s letter states. “Americans need leadership, not political gamesmanship.”

Warnock’s letter does not go into specifics about whom he blames for the slowdown in negotiations. But recent comments by McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, have jeopardized the future of the legislation.

McConnell announced earlier this month that he would encourage fellow Republicans to oppose the China competitiveness package if Democrats forged ahead on a separate measure that would address rising health care costs and, possibly, climate change. That legislation could also include tax increases on businesses and the richest Americans, although its framework continues to evolve.

Democrats are planning to use a process called reconciliation that would allow that bill to become law without the support of any Republicans. But McConnell said if Democrats do that, they won’t have the 10 Republican votes they need for the China bill, which can be halted by the use of a filibuster.

The reconciliation package is itself the source of uncertainty. West Virginia U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said Thursday that he currently does not support including green energy policies or tax increases in the measure, and his vote is needed because of Democrats’ thin 50-member majority. If reconciliation is scaled back or dropped altogether, that could change how Republicans approach the China competition bill.

If that measure continues to stall, some lawmakers and White House officials have floated the idea of passing a scaled-down version that only includes $52 billion in funding to boost semiconductor production. A spokesman for Warnock said the senator is open to a reduced package but is waiting to see what comes to the Senate floor and remains hopeful that a much more sweeping measure can be finalized.

The Biden administration has also said it would like to see the China bill passed in bipartisan fashion. Warnock said in his letter that this goal should not be derailed by disagreements among elected officials.

“Political threats to block this legislation are shameful,” he wrote. “At this moment, families need our help more than ever. We should not force a choice between helping Americans afford essential medication and creating good-paying jobs through innovation. Our economy and our communities need and deserve both.”

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