• Sarah Chamberlain

Endless Frontier passage shows bipartisanship is possible

6/14 Update: The United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (USICA), formerly known as the Endless Frontier Act, is United States legislation sponsored by Senators Todd Young (R-IN) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) authorizing $110 billion for basic and advanced technology research over a five year period. It passed the Senate by a 68-32 margin on June 8 and is now being considered by the House of Representatives. You can read the media's reaction to passage here.

By Sarah Chamberlain

Imagine if Congress could come together in a bipartisan way – with support from the White House – to pass legislation that would have a huge impact on our global competitiveness and, at the same time, demonstrate that we can work together without the rancor that is plaguing us on COVID relief and infrastructure bills.

Six Republican Main Street Partnership members have been key advocates for the recent reintroduction of the Endless Frontier Act from lead Republican sponsors Sen. Todd Young of Indiana and Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin to co-sponsors Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Reps. Mike Turner of Ohio, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and John Katko of New York. On the Democratic side, the primary sponsors are Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Ro Khanna of California.

In the past few weeks, the bill has been broadened and renamed to incorporate several bipartisan proposals into one overarching bill to address both current economic needs and the nation’s future competitiveness.

As a result, the newly named U.S. Innovation and Competition Act is a comprehensive piece of legislation to confront China’s economic adventurism and sustain America’s role in the world.

The legislation responds to China's significant investments in research and development toward cutting-edge 21st century technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and genomics. They are the very platforms on which we’ll build sectors of the economy in the future.

The original bill proposed renaming the National Science Foundation the National Science and Technology Foundation and authorizing it to spend $100 billion over five years for basic and advanced research, commercialization, and education and training programs in technology areas critical to national leadership.

An additional $10 billion would authorize the Commerce Department to designate up to 18 regional technology hubs to ensure that the research and development and manufacturing of key technologies is able to move swiftly from university research labs into the private sector, with additional funding likely to follow for domestic semiconductor manufacturing and other tech-related supply-chain proposals.

The revised bill appears to leave the regional technology hubs untouched but some critics have expressed concern over some of the reshuffling, pointing to a reduction in the scale of some of Endless Frontier’s ambitions, including funding that replaces existing funding rather than supplementing it.

The new bill funds a program aimed at alleviating the semiconductor shortage, supports semiconductor development for the Department of Defense and the U.S. intelligence community, boosts U.S. efforts to expand the 5G broadband network and develops a secure international supply chain for semiconductors.

The White House endorsed the Endless Frontier version on April 21 as an “encouraging sign of the bipartisan support for investing in America’s competitiveness.”

We have decreased our level of investment in recent decades while the Chinese Communist Party has increased its investment, but it is not too late to reverse course. If we're going to outgrow, out-innovate, and ultimately outcompete the Chinese Communist Party, then we must invest in these areas.

Republicans – and Democrats -- can use this bill to counter the message that while we are divided on so many fronts, we are unified when it comes to national security and defending our values.

The expanded bill came together because Senators pushed aside pride of authorship to attract as many good ideas as possible. This admittedly is not how it worked on COVID relief; we hope it works here and with the President’s infrastructure plan. An early good sign in that regard was Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s proposal to rein in the costs of the infrastructure bill while directing more money to items such as roads and bridges.

It sometimes gets lost in all the rhetoric, but the Republican Party needs to stay grounded in promoting our long-time core values – creating opportunities to rise up the economic ladder, to start a family, to land a meaningful vocation, and to be equal in your citizenship with your fellow citizens. This bill will help facilitate that, just as it did when we invested roughly $140 billion into the space race a few decades ago and reap the benefits of $2.3 trillion worth of GDP contribution today.

This is a proven bipartisan model and one that just needs updating for the 21st century.

We have done very well with basic research, but when it comes to the physical sciences like robotics, advanced manufacturing, and artificial intelligence the Chinese are often outclassing us – and it’s an area where the United States has historically done a better job. We need to up our game.

Republicans need to continue to communicate that we support priorities like these and then, where given the opportunity, work with Democrats to put forward ideas to advance those proposals.

Sarah Chamberlain is president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, an alliance of more than 60 centrist Congressional Republicans committed to passing kitchen-table legislation in a bipartisan manner.