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Senate Bill Taking Aim At China's Economic Influence May Face House Challenges


Republicans and Democrats in the Senate managed to agree on something, an industrial bill that aims to undermine China's growing economic influence. It includes billions of dollars for scientific research, subsidies for chip manufacturers and an overhaul of the National Science Foundation. But will the House sign off?

Yesterday, our co-host Rachel talked to Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana and Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California about their support for the bill. You're going to hear Congressman Khanna speak first.

RO KHANNA: The United States has always led in innovation, and this bipartisan bill makes sure we will lead in innovation in the 21st century. There are three parts to this bill that are transformative. First, it's the largest investment in science since the Apollo years. Second, it will distribute the technology innovation to the Heartland and across the country, not just in Silicon Valley or New York. And third, it shows, as Senator Young has exhibited leadership - Representative Gallagher, Senator Schumer - that the Congress is still capable of doing bipartisan big things. You shouldn't underestimate America.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Senator, what does it say, though, that such a huge bill is necessary, such huge investments necessary to compete with China?

TODD YOUNG: Well, it suggests that for a number of years, the United States has been underinvesting in our scientific enterprise, in our basic research and development. We did invest in and invest boldly with great effect in our people and in our basic research post-World War II. And ultimately, that helped us outgrow, out-innovate and outcompete the Soviet Union. It's essential that we harness the talents and the aspirations of everyone across this country, which is why we establish regional tech hubs in this legislation and why we identify a number of targeted investment areas so that we might win the 21st century just as we won the 20th century.

MARTIN: So can one of you outline what those targeted areas are? Because when you say America needs to invest more in innovation, I mean, there are a lot of different sectors that can argue that they're about innovation. Right?

YOUNG: So these are technology areas that after consultation with numerous, you know, technologists and national security advisers and perhaps most importantly the private sector, we know that continued investment and leadership in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robotics, autonomous technologies, advanced manufacturing, genomics - these are among the areas where the U.S. should be leading.

MARTIN: Congressman, how do you make specific decisions, though? I know you've identified regional tech hubs that could benefit from these investments. But how do you decide exactly which companies are going to benefit? I imagine there are a lot of corporations that are interested in some of this federal money.

KHANNA: Well, Rachel, this bill doesn't pick winners or losers. We're not giving money directly to corporations. This is investing in the underlying science and technology that will allow an ecosystem to develop for companies to thrive. The jobs from innovation from the industries that Senator Young outlined have a huge multiplier effect. It creates four times the jobs. When you're creating a lab, you don't just have jobs for the Ph.D.s. You have to build a lab. You have to have service workers for the lab. So this is going to create millions of jobs while building our industry.

MARTIN: Senator Young, what, if any, pushback did you hear from members of your caucus?

YOUNG: You know, initially there were some reservations in light of the trillions of dollars we're spending in Washington. But as members were able to dive more deeply into the research, they found there is a massive multiplier effect. And in fact, among federal investments, the benefit-to-cost ratio of investing in basic research and development tends to be among the highest investments bang for the buck that we can make at the federal level.

MARTIN: So this is all about investment in American innovation in the American tech sector. But included in the bill are also efforts to take on China's unfair trade practices. Right? Can you talk about that and whether or not that could potentially cause more disruption in trade, in particular that precarious relationship with China?

YOUNG: I think it's important that we recognize that China has an incredibly large economy. They'll continue to play a very important role throughout the world, most especially in Asia. And we need to continue to trade with China. But at the same time, we don't want to be overly dependent on China, and we want them to understand there will be consequences if they steal our intellectual property or engage in other predatory behavior. So this legislation advances that objective by, in part, ensuring that we're working with our partners and allies as we develop these cutting-edge technologies so that it won't just be the United States competing with our strategic rival, but instead our broad and deep alliance system will collectively be able to confront the communist Chinese threat.

MARTIN: Congressman Khanna, I'll pivot to you with a question about what happens in the House with this. I mean, the House hasn't even committed to take the bill up. Right?

KHANNA: We are making good progress in the House. I've had great conversations with Eddie Bernice Johnson, the chair of the House Science Committee. I'm confident that the House Science Committee will pass this. I've had good conversations with our leadership, so I'm very confident within the next month or so, we should have a bill out of the House.

MARTIN: When will America start reaping the benefits of these investments? These are all long-term projects. Are they not?

KHANNA: I think we are going to start to see the benefits as soon as the investments are made. But it is a 10-year horizon. I mean, it's not going to be the next day that all the jobs be created, but these are going to be creating the jobs of the future over the next 10 years. And what Americans should feel good about is this is what's going to allow us to win the technology race of the 21st century. Look; it wasn't the bill originally that Senator Young or Senator Schumer and Representative Gallagher and I wrote. But that's good. That's democracy. We don't do things by fiat. And ultimately, I think that's going to show to be a better system.

MARTIN: Are you going to advocate for bipartisan support of the infrastructure bill then?

KHANNA: I'd love to - it to be bipartisan. My experience working with Senator Young, Representative Gallagher is if you get the people in a room and not in front of the cameras, we can get a lot of things done. I really enjoyed working with them. I think this should be an example of how we get things done for the country.

YOUNG: I absolutely agree with that.

MARTIN: Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana and Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California, it's been a pleasure. Thank you very much.

YOUNG: Thank you, Rachel.

KHANNA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMBINATE'S "STORM WATCH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.