AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
Lawmakers from both parties in Congress are reportedly working to get a deal done before the July 4 recess on the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), a $100 billion piece of legislation that will ostensibly set the U.S. on a more competitive footing with Communist China. But while negotiators on both sides insist that USICA will take great strides to combat China’s growing malign influence on the world stage, the actual provisions contained in both the Senate and House versions of the bill suggest that it may instead be yet another piece of toothless legislation that misallocates billions of taxpayer dollars and fails to do anything about the problem it purports to solve.
Despite relatively little coverage from the mainstream media, a China competition bill has emerged as perhaps Democrats’ last real chance to pass major legislation ahead of the midterm elections. The first iteration of the bill was introduced in the Senate last year as the Endless Frontiers Act, an effort that focused primarily on creating a new directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF) that would fund research and development to compete with China. But as the bill moved through the Senate process, funding for the NSF was quickly pared down to less than 30% of the original amount, even as one unrelated provision after another was crammed into the bill, ranging from an amendment to crack down on the sale of shark fins to one from Washington Senator Maria Cantwell to give an additional $10 billion to NASA to fund Washington-based Blue Origin’s lunar lander project.
The bill that emerged was the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, a grotesque amalgamation of special interests and pet projects that bears little resemblance to anything approaching a “China competition bill.” At well over 1,000 pages, the bill does give some nods to addressing the growing threat from China with provisions prohibiting funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology and vague promises of sanctions on China for “cybersecurity and human rights abuses.” Yet these measures are far outweighed by blatant pork-barrel spending. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) summarized the situation quite succinctly in saying, “Everyone knows this thing is going to pass, so every lobbyist wants to add everything they can.”
The House version of the bill, the COMPETES Act, is even worse, and includes provisions to “bolster climate diplomacy” and create a $4 billion “green climate fund” for developing countries, as well as certain special favors for unions favored by progressives. Incredibly, House Democrats’ bill also calls for “exemptions from the limitations on immigrant visas for immigrants who have earned a doctoral degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM),” despite the fact that many such students have been caught selling research secrets to the Chinese government. Unsurprisingly, while USICA passed the Senate on a 68-32 margin, the COMPETES Act earned only one Republican vote in the House, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.
Currently, House and Senate lawmakers are in intense negotiations to work out a version of the bill that can pass both chambers – no easy task given that they must appease at least 10 Senate Republicans as well as House progressives. But as the midterms near, Democrats will come under increasing pressure to get something passed, while Republicans – particularly those Senate Republicans up for re-election this fall – may be eager for an opportunity to deliver on some of their spending priorities. The political calculus thus seems to be pointing toward passage of a bill that provides funding for both Republican and Democrat priorities.
If the bill does ultimately pass, we are likely to hear from elected officials and the mainstream media what a big win it is for setting the U.S. on a path to compete with China. As is so often the case, Congress seems to believe that throwing exorbitant sums of money at a problem with no oversight will somehow solve it. If the past is any guide, once the bill passes, Congress, satisfied with their messaging win, will wash their hands of the issue, claiming to have done their part, all while China continues to steal American intellectual property at home and threaten U.S. interests abroad.
Even the original Endless Frontiers Act, which would have targeted funding to U.S. research institutions, largely misses the root of the problem: no matter what “sanctions” Congress threatens, the Chinese Communist Party has proven that it has no qualms about stealing every piece of U.S. research and intellectual property for their own gain. Both the Endless Frontiers Act and USICA assume that China will play by a defined set of rules, when everything from the CCP’s manipulation of their currency to their brutal violation of basic human rights suggests otherwise. While government research agencies and public universities will undoubtedly play an important role in outcompeting China on future technologies, the idea that they alone can win a great power competition is and always was a fantasy.
If Congress actually wants to address the threat from China, it should start with common-sense measures like further bolstering the U.S. military, arming Taiwan, and hardening America’s critical infrastructure – an effort that includes ramping up American energy production and domestic manufacturing. And given China’s increasingly aggressive posture around the world, our leaders may want to start pursuing such solutions sooner rather than later.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_
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