Mitch McConnell Signals Support for Senate Bill to Boost U.S. Investment in Science, Research

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell gave his support to a bill that would increase investments made in science and research made to keep up with China, even though it lacked Republican-sponsored amendments, the Associated Press reported.

"Needless to say, final passage of this legislation cannot be the Senate's final word on our competition with China. It certainly won't be mine," McConnell said.

While the bill has bipartisan support, many GOP senators worry about the bill's cost.

The bill created a new branch in the National Science Foundation that focused on artificial intelligence and quantum science. It would authorize $29 billion over five years for the new branch and an additional $52 billion for its programs.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Mitch McConnel with Mike Crapo
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) and Sen. Mike Crapo (L) leave a Senate Republican Policy Committee closed-door luncheon in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on May 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The centerpiece of the bill is a $50 billion emergency allotment to the Commerce Department to stand up semiconductor development and manufacturing through research and incentive programs previously authorized by Congress. The bill's overall cost would increase spending by about $250 billion with most of the spending occurring in the first five years.

Supporters described it as the biggest investment in scientific research that the country has seen in decades. It comes as the nation's share of semiconductor manufacturing globally has steadily eroded from 37 percent in 1990 to about 12 percent now, and as a chip shortage has exposed vulnerabilities in the U.S. supply chain.

The support for the bill demonstrates how confronting China economically is a mission that unites both parties in Congress. That's a rarity in an era of division as pressure grows on Democrats to change Senate rules to push past obstruction and gridlock.

"The premise is simple, if we want American workers and American companies to keep leading the world, the federal government must invest in science, basic research and innovation, just as we did decades after the Second World War," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "Whoever wins the race to the technologies of the future is going to be the global economic leader with profound consequences for foreign policy and national security as well."

Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Congress should be cutting the foundation's budget, not increasing it. He called the agency "the king of wasteful spending." The agency finances about a quarter of all federally supported research conducted by America's colleges and universities.

Senators have tried to strike a balance when calling attention to China's growing influence. They want to avoid fanning divisive anti-Asian rhetoric when hate crimes against Asian Americans have spiked during the coronavirus pandemic.

Other measures spell out national security concerns and target money-laundering schemes or cyberattacks by entities on behalf of the Chinese government. There are also "buy America" provisions for infrastructure projects in the U.S.

Senators added provisions that reflect shifting attitudes toward China's handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. One would prevent federal money for the Wuhan Institute of Virology as fresh investigations proceed into the origins of the virus and possible connections to the lab's research. The city registered some of the first coronavirus cases.

It's unclear whether the measure will find support in the Democratic-led House, where the Science Committee is expected to consider it next week. Representative Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who has been working with Schumer for two years on legislation that's included in the bill, called it the biggest investment in science and technology since the Apollo spaceflight program a half-century ago.

AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

Check Schumer Speaks at Capitol
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington. Schumer warned his Democratic colleagues that June will "test our resolve" as senators return Monday to consider infrastructure, voting rights and other priorities. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press