NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, August 9th, 2022

President Biden signs CHIPS and Science bill crafted by Washington’s own Maria Cantwell

The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic turned out not only to be a glob­al killer, but in eco­nom­ic terms, the prover­bial hang­ing in the morn­ing that focus­es the mind.

“It opened everyone’s eyes,” said Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell, D‑Washington, point­ing to sup­ply chain prob­lems and a crit­i­cal short­age of semiconductors.

“We didn’t want to be depen­dent on some­one else,” Cantwell added, in an inter­view soon after Pres­i­dent Biden signed into law the CHIPS and Sci­ence Act, bipar­ti­san leg­is­la­tion craft­ed and steered by Cantwell in her capac­i­ty as chair of the Sen­ate Com­merce, Sci­ence and Trans­porta­tion Committee.

The microchip was invent­ed in the Unit­ed States, yet our country’s share of semi­con­duc­tor man­u­fac­tur­ing capac­i­ty has decreased from thir­ty-sev­en per­cent of world pro­duc­tion in 1990 to just twelve per­cent today, accord­ing to the Semi­con­duc­tor Indus­try Asso­ci­a­tion. More than four-fifths of fab­ri­ca­tion capac­i­ty is in Asia, and the U.S. is mas­sive­ly depen­dent on Tai­wan for our com­put­er chips.

With Chi­nese jets buzzing Taiwan’s air­space, and rock­et “tests” fired into adja­cent waters, big secu­ri­ty con­cerns hang over a vital com­po­nent in manufacturing.

“Very big,” said Cantwell.

Dur­ing craft­ing of the CHIPS leg­is­la­tion, Cantwell steered mem­bers of the Sen­ate and House to a secure con­fer­ence room in the Unit­ed States Capi­tol, for eye-open­ing brief­in­gs on U.S. for­eign depen­dence and its dangers.

“Action wasn’t an option­al thing: We need­ed to get this done,” said Cantwell.

Even when, after Con­gress’ Inde­pen­dence Day recess, Sen­ate Repub­li­can Leader Mitch McConnell tried to pull the plug on con­fer­ence negotiations.

Or as Wash­ing­ton col­league Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Derek Kilmer (D‑WA-6th Dis­trict) put it: “The real­i­ty is that the nations with whom we com­pete aren’t sit­ting on the side­lines. They want to eat our lunch.”

The CHIPS and Sci­ence Act pro­vides for trans­for­ma­tive new invest­ments in research, inno­va­tion and Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ing by accel­er­at­ing U.S. pro­duc­tion of crit­i­cal semi­con­duc­tor chips, strength­en­ing sup­ply chains, mak­ing more goods in Amer­i­ca and invest­ing in basic research on tech­nolo­gies of the future.

The leg­is­la­tion includes $52.7 bil­lion for U.S. com­pa­nies pro­duc­ing semi­con­duc­tors, as well as bil­lions more in tax cred­its to encour­age invest­ment in chip man­u­fac­tur­ing. The Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion hopes pri­vate sec­tor invest­ment will be “spurred” by the bill.

Ida­ho-based Micron announced Tues­day it will invest $40 bil­lion in mem­o­ry chip man­u­fac­tur­ing, with help from the CHIPS and Sci­ence Act.

The announce­ment came as Pres­i­dent Biden signed CHIPS and Sci­ence on the White House lawn. In Cantwell’s words: “More than a dozen com­pa­nies are expect­ed to make announce­ments in the next few months about expand­ing the chip sup­ply chain in the Unit­ed States.”

The moment jus­ti­fied a bit of polit­i­cal hyperbole.

“Today is a day for builders,” said Biden. “Today Amer­i­ca is deliv­er­ing, deliv­er­ing, and I hon­est to God believe that fifty, sev­en­ty-five, one hun­dred years from now, peo­ple who will look back on this week, they will now we met this moment.”

Sev­en weeks ago, it seemed the Biden-Har­ris Admin­is­tra­tion was on the ropes — at least in nation­al media cov­er­age. But now, the Belt­way press sees the 46th Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States on a roll, with the CHIPS leg­is­la­tion, a mod­est gun safe­ty bill, and approval of Swe­den and Fin­land join­ing NATO.

The House is slat­ed to approve the $369 bil­lion Sen­ate-passed pack­age of cli­mate and health ini­tia­tives lat­er this week, in a Fri­day, August 12th vote.

Sen­a­tor Cantwell does the grunt work of gov­ern­ing. She has repeat­ed­ly pulled progress out of a balky, divid­ed body. She was able to get a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Sen­ate to per­ma­nent­ly autho­rize and fund the Land and Water Con­ser­va­tion Fund. Team­ing with Sen­a­tor Lisa Murkows­ki, R‑Alaska.

She also secured con­struc­tion of an urgent­ly need­ed new heavy-duty polar ice­break­er with design of anoth­er on the way. She even put 311,000 acres of the upper Methow Riv­er val­ley, a water­shed unmatched in its water qual­i­ty, off lim­its to explo­ration by Cana­di­an min­ing companies.

The CHIPS and Sci­ence Act posed intri­cate chal­lenges. Start­ing with its name. Repub­li­cans were all for semi­con­duc­tor man­u­fac­tur­ing but, in Cantwell’s words, “They don’t like sci­ence.” A big part of the leg­is­la­tion is fund­ing for basic research and devel­op­ment. It drew oppo­si­tion from both the right and the left, from Repub­li­cans who claimed the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment will be play­ing favorites in who get the mon­ey, and a famil­iar reprise from Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders, I‑Vermont.

“The ques­tion we should be ask­ing is this: Should Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers pro­vide the microchip indus­try with a blank check at a time when semi­con­duc­tor com­pa­nies are mak­ing tens of bil­lions of dol­lars in prof­its and pay­ing their exec­u­tive exor­bi­tant com­pen­sa­tion pack­ages?” Sanders thun­dered in a Sen­ate floor speech.

Cantwell put in guardrails to assure the mon­ey goes to cre­ate jobs in Amer­i­ca, and not to pay for stock buy­backs. Sanders was CHIPS’ lone oppo­nent in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus. The leg­is­la­tion ulti­mate­ly passed on a 64–33 vote, draw­ing sig­nif­i­cant Repub­li­can sup­port and over­com­ing a filibuster.

“If you don’t play like they (for­eign com­peti­tors) play, then you are not going to be man­u­fac­tur­ing high tech chips, and they are essen­tial for our nation­al defense as well as our econ­o­my,” warned Sen­a­tor Mitt Rom­ney, R‑Utah.

With Cantwell draw­ing on the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton as mod­el, CHIPS/Science prods uni­ver­si­ties to patent and mar­ket tech­nolo­gies devel­oped by their scientists.

“In this infor­ma­tion Age, we have seen peo­ple pub­lish their find­ings, but they don’t patent,” said Cantwell. “Our com­peti­tors read the mate­ri­als and go out and do the devel­op­ment themselves.”

The leg­is­la­tion’s path through the House got tougher after Repub­li­cans flew into a fury when Sen­a­tor Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin agreed on what would become the Infla­tion Reduc­tion Act, leg­is­la­tion that seemed out of reach as recent­ly as mid-July. Top House Repub­li­cans took out their anger at the deal on CHIPS and Sci­ence, urg­ing a No vote. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers, R‑Washington, led oppo­si­tion on the House floor.

The CHIPS and Sci­ence Act passed the House by a 243–187 vote, with twen­ty-four Repub­li­cans break­ing with par­ty lead­er­ship to sup­port the bill.

Sur­pris­ing­ly, com­ing from a tech­nol­o­gy-dri­ven state, none of Washington’s three Repub­li­can House mem­bers vot­ed Yea.

Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, Nan­cy Pelosi and U.S. Com­merce Sec­re­tary Gina Rai­mon­do deliv­ered sun­ny vic­to­ry speech­es Tues­day morn­ing on a hot White House lawn. But it was Cantwell who kept her cool and made it happen.

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