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Imitate China to compete with it? Lawmakers debate science funding bills as a way to seed U.S. industry

Imitate China to compete with it? Lawmakers debate science funding bills as a way to seed U.S. industry

Post-Gazette Washington Bureau

Daniel Moore
July 12, 2021
WASHINGTON — Last month, Congress showed a rare streak of bipartisan agreement to advance proposals to usher in an unprecedented investment in American science and research, a move aimed at keeping pace with countries like China and to better prepare for future public health emergencies.
To draft a final measure for President Joe Biden’s signature, however, lawmakers in the House and Senate are hoping to bridge significant gaps in how to structure that funding, in which the Pittsburgh region stands to gain.
A central question in the debate is just how far to go with government-funded science initiatives — whether the U.S. should draw from China’s own industrial practices — to out-compete the world.
The version passed by the Senate “has some clear advantages” and “more meat on the bones,” said Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Mt. Lebanon, a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, in an interview this month.
The Senate bill “is tied to such a larger dollar amount of investment that has such a tight focus on specific industries,” Mr. Lamb explained. “I think you need to spend that kind of money to really compete with China. We have to, in some ways, look at what [China] did, which is to pick a very small list of sectors that they want to dominate. And we need a similar level of focus and dedication.”
Mr. Lamb was referring to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, passed by a 68-to-32 vote in the Senate on June 11. The bill would provide $52 billion in subsidies for U.S. semiconductor manufacturing, create regional technology hubs across the country, seed emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, strengthen trade laws to protect domestic industry and put in place new controls on foreign involvement in the U.S. research system.
It proposed creating a new technology directorate at the National Science Foundation for cutting-edge research and fund it at $29 billion over five years, with tens of billions more going to general research.
A provision proposed by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., that would establish the first-ever federal review process of U.S. outsourcing to China, Russia and other adversarial countries was excluded from the final measure.
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