After more than a year of negotiations, Congress has passed a bill to alleviate the chip shortage and shore up U.S. competitiveness with China — in part by giving $50 billion to the semiconductor industry.
The House voted 243-187 on last Thursday to send the “CHIPS+” bill to Biden’s desk where he has promised to sign it. It cleared the Senate last Wednesday in a vote of 64-33.
Thursday’s final vote proved a bit closer than expected with some Republicans who had supported the effort voting no at the last minute to protest the expanded reconciliation bill announced last night by Democrats. Nevertheless, 24 Republicans voted for the package, and the bill passed relatively easily. One Democrat, Sara Jacobs of California, voted present Thursday with every other member of her party voting yes.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently said the effort will help “one of the most important struggles of this century.”
“The 21st century will be won or lost on the battleground of technological innovation,” he added.
The cost of the bill is still being tabulated. A preliminary analysis from the Congressional Budget Office assesses the bill will incur roughly $79 billion in new spending over the coming decade. The bill will also redirect existing government money to the effort; a fuller accounting is expected to be released soon but it likely to be much higher and spend a total of about $280 billion.
Lawmakers had previously passed a more ambitious version of the bill, and for a time legislators discussed a “slimmed down” version that would only include the direct inducements to the semiconductor industry. But in the end, lawmakers added a host of provisions back into the bill, ballooning the cost.
Here are the highlights from in the bill, which Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) recently told “affects the costs for so many things for Americans” from your cellphone, to your vacuum cleaner, to the government weapon’s systems.
This week’s votes came after a full court press from the Biden administration to restart the effort after months of fruitless negotiations.
“America invented the semiconductor — it’s time we bring it home,” President Joe Biden said at a virtual White House event on last Monday.
Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo addressed criticism of the bill by stressing that it doesn’t aim to make businesses more profitable but instead seeks to invest in the U.S. economy.
From the private sector, a host of companies descended on Washington to push the bill over the finish line. Gary Cohn, the former Director of the National Economic Council and a current vice-chairman of IBM (IBM), said his company alone was bringing over 60 executives to meet with lawmakers.
The key provision in the bill is the $50 billion for chipmakers. Of those funds, $39 billion are earmarked to “build, expand, or modernize domestic facilities” for chip-making.
The remainder — $11 billion — is set aside for research and development. This money appears designed to alleviate a rift that had been developing between semiconductor companies like Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Qualcomm (QCOM) and Nvidia (NVDA), which had focused on designing — but not manufacturing — these crucial chips and were worried about being left out.
In any case, Intel (INTC) will be a key recipient of the funds. The company recently postponed the groundbreaking on an Ohio factory because of delays with the bill but promised to move ahead if it becomes law.
Other companies that appear likely to receive funds include Texas Instruments (TXN), Micron Technology (MU), Global Foundries (GFS), and Samsung.
Elsewhere in the bill, another $4.2 billion will help fund other areas of the industry like workforce training, defense initiatives, future innovation, and for the U.S. mobile broadband market. The money for broadband focuses on “leap-ahead technologies,” including an effort to promote non-Chinese 5G equipment manufacturing.
Another portion is a new “Advanced Manufacturing Investment Credit,” which creates a new 25% tax benefit for semiconductor manufacturing. It’s part of a suite of efforts that, advocates say, will allow the U.S. to catch up in the global semiconductor manufacturing race.
The U.S. role in semiconductor manufacturing has fallen from nearly 40% in 1990 to 12% today, according to a recent report from the Semiconductor Industry Association. The situation is even worse with the world’s most advanced logic semiconductors, 100% of which were manufactured overseas in 2019. The group has applauded progress on the bill.
Daniel Clifton, head of Washington research at Strategas, told recently that many view semiconductors as “the new oil.” If a nation can “control oil and chips, you start to control the production of just about anything that’s going to happen in the economy and we could see that that’s where the long-term trend is,” he said.
The bill is also set to restrict semiconductor companies’ activities, banning new work “in specific countries that present a national security threat to the United States.” The language is clearly aimed at China, which has been moving to bolster its semiconductor industry, as well.
The provision is designed to ensure that China doesn’t receive any benefits from the new U.S. government funds. “We’re not going to have to worry so much about the actions of an adversary, meaning China, when it comes to our supply of semiconductor chips,” Sen. Kelly said.
On Monday, Biden also noted that the guardrails mean “we’re not going to allow these companies to use these funds to buy back stock or issue dividends.”
The bill also includes billions to beef up science training efforts to help the U.S. compete against China. In total, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Commerce, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will divvy up $52 billion in funding increases over the coming years for initiatives aimed at shoring up U.S. competitiveness in areas like building a “STEM workforce”
The bipartisan effort has engendered opposition from a swath of Republicans but also one of Biden’s own allies. Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called the bill a blank check “at a time when semiconductor companies are making tens of billions of dollars in profits and paying their executives exorbitant compensation packages.”
He also savaged the “guardrails” in the package, noting that companies would still be able to outsource some jobs abroad and also use their profits to make stock buybacks if they want.
Some conservative House Republicans also tried to stop the bill, calling it a “fake” China bill. However, the bill ended up passing with relative ease after the long delay.
Many advocates immediately hailed the news. IBM Chairman and CEO Arvind Krishna hailed the House passage as marking” a historic investment in our economy here at home, boosts our global competitiveness, and strengthens our national security.”