Senate Advances Defense Bill After Dispute Over US–China Competition Bill

November 18, 2021 Updated: November 18, 2021

The Senate on Wednesday advanced its annual defense policy bill after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) dropped efforts to merge it with legislation to boost U.S. technology competitiveness with China and semiconductor manufacturing.

Late on Wednesday, the Senate voted 84–15 to advance debate on the National Defense Authorization Act, which could begin as soon as Thursday.

It comes months after the House passed its version of the of a $768 billion defense policy bill for the 2022 fiscal year.

The National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, sets policy for the Pentagon on a number of areas including how many rifles and ships it should purchase, soldiers’ salaries, and to how best to approach geopolitical threats.

The House’s version directs defense and intelligence officials to detail how to protect Afghanistan against potential terrorist threats, now that the United States no longer has a presence in the country.

The Senate’s version of the defense policy bill for fiscal year 2022 was introduced by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking Republican committee member, in September.

“While there are many areas of agreement on these legislative proposals between the two chambers, there are still a number of important unresolved issues,” Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement.

The pair added that the House and Senate “will immediately begin a bipartisan process of reconciling the two chambers’ legislative proposals so that we can deliver a final piece of legislation to the president’s desk as soon as possible.”

Schumer earlier said on Monday that he planned to add the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) to the NDAA, hoping to get it passed so President Joe Biden can sign it into law this year.

USICA includes $52 billion to increase U.S. semiconductor production and authorizes $190 billion to strengthen U.S. technology and research to compete with China.

The Senate passed USICA with bipartisan support in June. But the House of Representatives never took up the Senate-passed measure. House leaders said earlier they wanted to pass their own bill, but never did.

Schumer and Pelosi said they would now enter formal negotiations on USICA by going to “conference.”

“Working with President Biden, the House and Senate have been crafting bipartisan legislation to bolster American manufacturing, fix our supply chains, and invest in the next generation of cutting-edge technology research,” the two said, adding, “There are still a number of important unresolved issues.”

Democrats have said they hope to complete the defense bill before the Thanksgiving recess.

“I think what we would like to do would be to finish the NDAA before Thanksgiving, so it could be later this week, it could be into Friday or Saturday, it could be early next week,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “The leader said he would really like to either get NDAA done before Thanksgiving or have it all done before a final passage vote.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.