Senate leadership is making the legislative moves necessary to begin work in earnest on reconciling two different versions of innovation and competition legislation that features billions of funding to boost domestic semiconductor production and create a new technology directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Along those lines, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., filed cloture on the House-passed America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength (COMPETES) Act on March 17.

On the Senate floor, Schumer then laid out his plan of action that involves the Senate taking up the America COMPETES to amend it with the text of the Senate-passed United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), passing it, then sending the resulting legislation back to the House for conferencing.

“Last summer the Senate passed an overwhelmingly bipartisan bill that will bring manufacturing jobs back to America, fix supply chains, fuel scientific research, and ultimately lower costs by a significant amount,” Sen. Schumer said. “The bipartisan bill would be great news for our economy, our entrepreneurs, our innovators, and especially families who are feeling the sting because of the chip shortage.”

“We all know the chip shortage is hurting so many people,” he continued. “It’s hurting the auto industry that’s had to temporarily shut down factories. It’s hurt our tech industry, our health care industry, and so many others. So let’s solve this quickly.”

Each of the bills contains $52 billion to fully fund the CHIPS Act – a measure included in the fiscal year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Act – in addition to other investments in domestic research and development.

The Senate first attempted to legislate on big innovation issues with the Endless Frontiers Act, which morphed into the USICA legislation that passed last July. The House initially decided to pass two USICA alternatives that were then folded into the America COMPETES Act along with other legislation and passed in February.

Sen. Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that they planned to conference USICA last November, making it a priority for congressional Democrats. That conference effort was put on the backburner, however, with issues like the FY2022 NDAA, the FY2022 omnibus appropriations bill, and a debt limit fight taking precedence.

Calls for the innovation bills conference picked up recently, with President Biden calling for the bill’s conferencing in his State of the Union address March 1, followed by a group of 147 bipartisan congressmembers calling for action March 9. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., put in his own call for work on the bill earlier this week.

“This jobs and supply chains legislation will help lower costs,” Sen. Schumer said. “Let us have bipartisan cooperation on this bill. Now, despite cloture, it’s far better for Democrats and Republicans to reach an agreement to vote on this bill quickly, and we’ll keep working on that over the next few days.”

“After all the good work we’ve done in recent weeks passing bipartisan legislation, let’s add to that tally by quickly passing this bill,” he added. “Creating jobs, lowering costs, fixing supply chains shouldn’t be partisan. And I hope to see an agreement to expedite this process soon. In the meantime, the process is moving forward.”

The Senate is set to return Monday, March 21 at 3 p.m. to resume consideration of the America COMPETES Act, and Schumer said he hopes to get the bill amended, passed, and back to the House sometime next week.

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.