Fresh hurdles push timeline on getting China bill to Biden

Greg Nash

Sweeping legislation to bolster U.S. technology manufacturing in an effort to make the nation more competitive with China is on track to be one of the few major bipartisan achievements this year — but not without overcoming additional hurdles in the House.

Following Senate passage on Tuesday after a grueling few weeks of negotiations, House members are preparing to advance their own measures to boost scientific research and exert diplomatic pressure on Beijing on issues like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The House is moving forward with legislation separate from the Senate-passed measure that ultimately garnered bipartisan support in a 68-32 vote. That means it could be weeks or even months before the two chambers can reconcile any differences and get a final bill to the White House.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) acknowledged on Wednesday that “the House could bring in additional priorities,” but added he was “intent on seeing the major thrust of this legislation become law.”

“The bill is so important to the future of America that the House and Senate must come together and send President Biden a bill that he is very, very eager to sign,” Schumer said.

Taking steps to counter China on the global stage is the kind of rare issue that members of both parties are keen to tackle in an otherwise deeply divided Congress.

At least three separate bills to address U.S. competitiveness are making their way through the House Foreign Affairs Committee as well as the Science, Space and Technology panel.

A House leadership aide said some components of a potential legislative package might advance individually.

The House Science Committee is expected to approve bills next week to increase funding for the National Science Foundation and establish a new directorate for science and engineering that expands research opportunities, in addition to authorizing research funding for the Energy Department’s Office of Science.

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, introduced legislation late last month that would increase State Department resources focused on the Indo-Pacific region and authorize funding to help developing countries adapt to climate change and invest in manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines as China embarks on its own “vaccine diplomacy” effort with doses that appear to be less effective than U.S.-manufactured ones.

The bill also would provide temporary protected or refugee status to people in Hong Kong and Uyghurs subjected to human rights violations by the Chinese government.

House GOP lawmakers are open to backing the legislation and are “working closely” with Democrats on making changes to address their concerns, a spokesperson for Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said.

In a sign of progress on that front, the panel has postponed a markup initially scheduled for next week to allow more time for bipartisan negotiations.

Some provisions in the Senate-passed bill but not currently in Meeks’s legislation are likely to gain widespread support in the House, such as requiring a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has previously endorsed the idea of a diplomatic boycott, while Meeks signed on to a bipartisan resolution this week urging the International Olympic Committee to relocate the 2022 games unless the Chinese government — also referred to as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) — stops its human rights abuses against the Uyghurs.

“By turning a blind eye to the PRC’s gross human rights violations in Xinjiang, the [International Olympic Committee] is betraying its own charter and legitimizing the PRC’s actions at a time when the international community should be lock-step in condemnation,” Meeks said in a statement on Monday.

Other components of the Senate bill that aren’t addressed in Meeks’s include a report on the origins of COVID-19 and language on Taiwan.

“The initial House version of the legislation is not as strong as it could be on several key issues from our support for Taiwan’s democracy, to an appropriate response to Beijing’s genocide against the Uyghurs. We need to come together in a bipartisan manner to respond with tough legislation that holds the [Chinese Communist Party] accountable for its aggression toward its neighbors and its abuses at home,” said Rep. Steve Chabot (Ohio), the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs panel’s Asia subcommittee. 

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), the lead sponsor of a bill to boost scientific research that’s been partially incorporated into the measure set for a vote in the Science Committee next week, expressed confidence that the eventual House legislation on China will ultimately win support in both chambers and find its way to Biden’s desk.

“This legislation will become the law of the land,” Khanna said.

Tags Beijing Charles Schumer China China dominance global economy Gregory Meeks Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Ro Khanna Steve Chabot tech manufacturing

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