Congress launched the Conference Committee on Bipartisan Innovation and Competition Legislation last week with a four-hour meeting featuring remarks by nearly one-hundred committee chairs and members from both chambers of Congress. Chaired by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Conference Committee’s objective is to reconcile differences between the United States Innovation and Competition Act (“USICA”), which passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 68–32 in June 2021, and the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act (“America COMPETES Act”), which passed the House by a partisan vote of 222–210 in February 2022.
The kick-off meeting suggested that this objective is attainable, but by no means guaranteed.
On display was broad consensus that the United States is not doing enough to spur innovation and remain competitive around the world, and that legislation is needed in support of those goals. Chair Cantwell opened the conference by recognizing that this is a “historic day” with a supply chain crisis and that this is a “Sputnik moment.” A bicameral and bipartisan chorus, including Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-MS), House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernie Johnson (D-TX), and House Science Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) echoed her optimism and urgency.
Members also generally agreed on several key components in the bills. Members of both chambers and both sides of the aisle recognized the importance of anchoring supply chains of critical products including semiconductors and pharmaceutical drugs in the United States. A bipartisan group expressed support for the $52 billion in funding for semiconductor incentives that is included in both the USICA and America COMPETES Act. Several Democrats and Republicans also noted that they are working together on an additional tax provision, which is currently not in either bill, to encourage semiconductor design and manufacturing in the United States. Members also agreed on the need to push back against anti-competitive conduct by China such as cyberattacks and intellectual property theft, and to invest in science, technology, education, and mathematics (STEM) education to expand and improve the U.S. workforce.