WASHINGTON (AFP) - US lawmakers voted on Friday (Feb 4) 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 US$250 billion (S$330 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 US$52 billion in domestic research and production and, after sitting on the Bill since it passed the Senate on cross-party vote in June, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently listed the US$350 billion package as a top priority.
"We're positioning the US interest in values to win on the world stage, holding the People's Republic of China accountable for using slave labour, which is a human rights issue and hurts US workers," Pelosi told reporters.
"More American goods made here at home lowers costs and strengthens supply chains for Americans and ensures that America, not the People's Republic of China, writes the rules of the road for the 21st century."
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 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.
The 2,900-page House version has been controversial, however, as it includes proposals that are unpopular with Republicans and did not appear in the Senate text. Only one of their members, Adam Kinzinger, voted with the Democrats.
House Republicans complain that much of the legislation was developed behind closed doors, without public hearings or consultations, and with no committee process.
They say it is weak on China, overly focused 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," Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement.
He accused Biden of being "content to sit on the sidelines" while foreign countries block US farmers and businesspeople from competing on a level playing field.
"Democrats have jammed this nearly 3,000-page giveaway with billions of dollars of new trade assistance welfare and lavish health care subsidies that discourage the jobless from connecting to work," Brady added.
"They hold the world's poorest countries hostage to Green New Deal demands, and make it harder for American manufacturers to qualify for lower tariffs on products needed to compete and win, both here and abroad."
Democrats did not need House Republican support to pass the Bill, but the opposition's emphatic rejection complicates its passage to Biden's desk.
It is destined for a "conference committee" to marry the Bills from both chambers, with Senate Republicans especially influential since at least 10 of them will be needed to advance it from the upper chamber.
Republican Todd Young, the senior senator for Indiana, told reporters on Thursday he and his colleagues would send House Republicans "a much better option to vote on in the next couple of months."
"If instead the House had taken an approach using regular order, as we did in the Senate, with fulsome opportunity for bipartisan input, they'd have a better work product and they would have earned a lot of Republican votes," he said.