Groundbreaking tech R&D invoice clears Senate

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday passed a landmark tech investment bill co-authored by South Bay Rep. Ro Khanna, a significant feat that puts pressure on the House to follow suit.

Khanna’s Endless Frontier Act, which will invest massively in innovative research and development, passed as part of the broader U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, a collection of bills designed to boost the American tech sector and keep the nation competitive on the world stage amid rising Chinese influence. Khanna helped write the bipartisan bill and sponsors its counterpart in the House.

The 68-32 vote brought together 19 Republicans and 49 Democrats in favor of the bill, a rare show of support across the aisle for anything in Washington these days.

The legislation’s passage has been expected for weeks, after it received significant support as it was advancing last month. But shortly before the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the bill hit a procedural snag. Senate rules require several days’ worth of time to elapse between various steps in a bill’s passage, but those requirements are often waived unanimously to speed up legislative work. As the holiday weekend approached, a handful of Republicans refused to agree to speed up the process due to unrelated border security demands, so final consideration of the bill was punted until Tuesday, as senators were on recess last week.

Khanna teamed up to write the Endless Frontier Act with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who guided it to passage in the upper chamber. They worked with Republicans Sen. Todd Young of Indiana and Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin.

The legislation invests more than $100 billion over five years in cutting-edge research and development, distributing the money through tech hubs around the country. Silicon Valley companies and research centers could be among major beneficiaries of the largesse.

It also creates a new tech-focused division within the National Science Foundation to fund projects in innovative fields such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and biotechnology. The bill’s name is an homage to a 1945 presidential report by inventor and policymaker Vannevar Bush, called “Science, The Endless Frontier,” which is credited with spurring the post-war investment in science that led to today’s engineering and tech industries.

Other legislation in the package includes efforts to support semiconductors and 5G wireless networks, to bolster the U.S. against China economically and to preserve American manufacturing and supply chains. The total cost of the package is roughly $250 billion.

The House will still have to pass either the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act or a substantially similar bill that can be negotiated in conference before the law is sent to President Biden for signature. Khanna expects the House to approve the Endless Frontier Act as part of a broader National Science Foundation authorization bill, which is working its way through committee. Usually, the Senate is the more difficult chamber to pass legislation through.

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