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US lawmakers advance China competition bill

WASHINGTON (AFP) – United States (US) lawmakers voted on Friday to greenlight a multibillion-dollar bill aimed at jumpstarting high-tech research and manufacturing, countering China’s growing influence and easing a global shortage of computer chips.

The House Democrats’ America Competes bill, their version of the Senate-passed USD250-billion US Innovation and Competition Act, was approved in a 222-210 vote in the Lower Chamber.

The legislative push came after the US Commerce Department warned that companies have an average of less than five days’ worth of semiconductor chips on hand, leaving them vulnerable to shutdowns.

President Joe Biden wants to invest USD52 billion in domestic research and production and, after sitting on the bill since it passed the Senate on a cross-party vote in June, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently listed the USD350-billion package as a top priority.

The package would mark a win that Biden would love to be able to trumpet at his State of the Union address on March 1, although it will now need to be reconciled with the Senate version, which could take several weeks.

“The House took a critical vote today for stronger supply chains and lower prices, for more manufacturing – and good manufacturing jobs – right here in America, and for outcompeting China and the rest of the world in the 21st Century,” the president said in a statement.

The White House sees the initiative as the main legislative tool to combat China’s growing prowess.

Senior administration officials, including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, had been pushing the House behind the scenes to move it quickly.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Congress was one step closer to delivering “big, bold, bipartisan action” to boost US jobs and strengthen supply chains so businesses can compete with China, lower costs and “invest in our future”.

The 2,900-page House version has been controversial, however, as it includes proposals that are unpopular with Republicans and didn’t appear in the Senate text. Only one of their members, Adam Kinzinger, voted with the Democrats.

House Republicans complained that much of the legislation was developed behind closed doors, without public hearings or consultations, and with no committee process.

They said it is weak on China, overly focussed on unrelated issues like climate change, human rights and social inequality, and stuffed with Democrat-sponsored trade provisions they reject.

“This partisan bill does nothing to hold China accountable for its predatory trade practices, enforce President (Donald) Trump’s historic agreement to stop China’s cheating on trade, or counter China’s trade aggression around the world,” top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee Kevin Brady said in a statement.