July 26

By Kaia Hubbard

The long-awaited and slimmed-down semiconductor bill passed a procedural hurdle in the Senate on Tuesday, teeing up a vote for final passage later this week as the chamber’s August recess quickly approaches.

The bill, which would afford more than $50 billion in subsidies to U.S. computer chip manufacturing, was designed to make the U.S. more competitive by incentivizing semiconductor production, while also funding scientific research and education to revive American leadership within the broader industry.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 64-32 to limit debate on the legislation, moving toward a vote on final passage slated for later this week, before heading to the House for debate as both chambers race to get through a busy legislative agenda in the final days before their August breaks.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said ahead of the vote on Tuesday that the passage of the bill, known as the CHIPS for America Act, would be a “major step” for economic and national security, supply chains and for “America’s future.”

“This morning, the Senate will draw a clear line in the sand that America’s chip crisis and America’s dwindling commitment to science and innovation will not continue under our watch,” Schumer said, noting that its passage would be “a turning point for American leadership in the 21st century.”

With this bill, Schumer said, “we will reawaken the spirit of discovery, innovation, invention and optimism that made America the envy of the world.”

President Joe Biden likewise praised the bill on Monday, hosting a meeting with business leaders on the legislation, which he urged Congress to pass as soon as possible, saying that “so much depends on it.”

“The United States has to lead the world in the production of these chips for our own safety’s sake, as well as our economic growth,” Biden said, pointing to rising inflation related in part to a shortage of semiconductors.

A global shortage of semiconductors, which have been called the ground zero of the U.S.’ tech competition with China, deepened during the coronavirus pandemic, threatening production cutbacks across various industries – from cars to medical devices.

Some have warned that the chip shortage even poses a national security risk to the U.S., as some of the most advanced semiconductors used in military technology come from Taiwan, which would spell trouble for the U.S. if China were to invade Taiwan and cut off U.S. access to the technology.

The legislation seeks to remedy that shortage and possible national security risk. But the bill is a pared-down version of broader legislation that came under threat earlier this month.

Nevertheless, Schumer touted the bill as “one of the most consequential bipartisan achievements of this Congress,” detailing the long road to its near passage.

“We all knew that America faced a choice,” Schumer said. “We could keep underfunding science and innovation and continue to let America fall behind our global competitors, or we could wake up to the challenges of this century and empower the American people to unleash the next wave of discovery and scientific achievement. We knew that if we didn’t get there first, our rivals, chief among them the Chinese Communist party, would likely beat us to the punch, and reshape the world in their authoritarian vision.”

Outside of seeking to remedy reliance on semiconductors from other countries, the bill would fund science and engineering research to renew the nation’s status as a leader in innovation.

“We don’t mean to see America become a middling nation in this century,” Schumer said. “We mean for America to lead this century.”