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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.

Joel Connelly

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