Sweeping legislation originally intended to promote U.S. competitiveness with China was watered down and is now being promoted by House Democrats as a jobs bill meant to address societal concerns, Republican lawmakers say.
The America COMPETES Act, colloquially referred to as the “China Bill,” was supposed to be the House’s response to the Senate’s bipartisan legislation: the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), which was approved by the chamber in June of last year.
National Security Provisions Replaced With Social Projects
The Senate’s USICA was designed to promote technology, manufacturing, and research policies that would enhance the United States’ competitive power amid rising aggression from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
It included provisions to prevent U.S. researchers from engaging in foreign talent recruitment programs, such as China’s Thousand Talents, and to establish a Federal Research Security Council to prevent the outward flow of research and technology related to national security.
The House bill removed both efforts and cut about $200 billion in initiatives to improve U.S. technology and research.
Among those initiatives is one provision to establish the position of chief diversity officer in the National Science Foundation, whose office would receive $5 million annually, and another that would remove caps on the number of green cards that could be given to doctoral students studying in STEM fields at universities in the United States.
“China’s theft of U.S. intellectual property is a threat to our national security,” House Committee on Education and Labor ranking member Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said in an email.
“Protecting research and development at universities, much of which is funded by taxpayers, should have been a top priority in the Democrats’ China bill. Instead, Democrats focused on partisan priorities that will do little to hold universities and individuals accountable for giving the CCP access to this crucial information and technology.”
Similarly, House Republicans from the Energy and Commerce Committee released a statement condemning the legislation as the “America Concedes Act.”
“This isn’t just a missed opportunity to boost American competitiveness, it will actively set us back in our goal to beat China and win the future,” said ranking committee member Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).
Rodgers pointed to parts of the House bill such as a $45 billion supply change “resiliency” initiative as a “slush fund” for special interests, and criticized the fact that the new bill doesn’t prevent allotted funds from being used to purchase materials and parts from China.
“The Chinese Communist Party tries to compete with the United States and other free-market economies by cheating, stealing, and using their centrally controlled economy to pick winners and losers through massive government subsidies,” Rodgers said.
“Instead of embracing free markets and American innovation and ingenuity, this legislation tries to copy China’s own dangerous path of centralized industrial policy and massive government handouts that benefit the ruling party’s political allies.”
Legislation Could ‘Undermine’ US Competitive Edge
Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, wrote a report outlining the differences between USICA and the America COMPETES Act, ultimately concluding that the House bill could actually undermine U.S. competitive advantage.
“Both proposals are ostensibly aimed at countering the China threat, but the House version has very little to do with actual China policy,” Lohman wrote.
“Despite a handful of useful foreign policy and security provisions, the act’s overwhelming impact would be to undermine America’s ability to compete effectively with China.”
Lohman noted that the bill wouldn’t establish new export laws to prevent mass technology transfer and that the continued pouring of new funds into nonstrategic government initiatives could actually erode American jobs in the long term.
Indeed, that appears to be a prospect that the drafters of the bill envisioned, as the legislation also provides for an expansion of Trade Adjustment Assistance, monies provided by the government to workers who lose their jobs because of wage reductions or increased imports.
Likewise, Lohman critiqued the fact that the House bill’s effort to promote domestic semiconductor manufacturing, a bipartisan issue, was written in a way that favored flailing industries rather than national security. In particular, he noted that portions of the funds were reserved for the auto industry, effectively providing a bailout after a year of supply chain crises.
The ranking Republican on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), referred to the apparently partisan provisions as “poison pills” in a statement.
“The economic and national security threats from China grow every day, and the Chinese Communist Party has been clear that their target is to surpass the United States,” Lucas said.
“And now that Speaker Pelosi has finally decided to act, she has done so with no regard for all of this bipartisan work. Instead of focusing on strong consensus policies, she’s filled her package with poison pills with no bipartisan support.”
Similarly, Rep. Michael McCaul, (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lamented the erosion of provisions that could have improved the United States’ ability to counter China.
“It is sad and reckless that House Democrats are trying to argue this 3,000-page bill they cobbled together in a few days is a serious national security effort,” McCaul said in an email.
“The bill authorizes more than twice as much money on an unaccountable slush fund controlled by the U.N. than it does for actual foreign policy programs. It didn’t have to be this way–there are so many policies Republicans and Democrats agree on when it comes to countering the generational threat posed by the CCP.”