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Utah’s Mike Lee, Mitt Romney split over tech investment to take on China

Senate bill passes 68-32. It now goes to the House.

(Erin Scott | The New York Times) Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 27, 2021. Lee and his Utah colleague, Mitt Romney, voted on opposites sides on a technology bill that takes on China.

The Senate passed a major investment bill Tuesday, intended to counter China’s growing influence in the tech sector.

It marked a rare show of bipartisanship as 68 senators agreed to the measure, which would invest more than $200 million directly into the research and manufacturing of key technology, including semiconductors.

One of the leading senators standing in opposition was Sen. Mike Lee.

The Utah Republican said the bill, which 32 GOP senators opposed, takes a page from China “by federally highjacking research and development and crowding out the private incentives that bring successful ideas to market. It is a flawed and ultimately foolish strategy.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, his Utah Republican colleague, was on the other side, arguing this bill would benefit the nation.

“We must come together with our allies and the free nations of the world if we are going to be successful in our effort to counter China,” Romney said, “and I applaud the Senate for taking a strong step in the right direction to do that.”

The legislation has been a priority for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has pushed the legislation through committee debates and a lengthy amendment process. Now it goes to the House. President Joe Biden supports the legislation.

“The ambitions of this legislation are large, but the premise is simple,” said Schumer, D-N.Y. “If we want American workers and American companies to keep leading the world, the federal government must invest in science, basic research, and innovation, just as we did decades after the Second World War.”

The bill offers $50 billion to subsidize the manufacturing of semiconductors needed for computers, phones, cars and more. It creates a new directorate of technology and innovation and gives it $29 billion to create 10 focus areas, such as artificial intelligence.

It would send billions to university tech centers and create regional hubs. It also would provide money to spur the creation of a 5G wireless network.

To directly take on China, the bill creates a federal task force to go over that nation’s market manipulation.

The bill includes a series of amendments written by Romney, including a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics because of human rights abuses.

Lee said he’s not against boosting the nation’s investment in technology and research but that this legislation “goes about it in the exact wrong way, trying to beat China at its own game.”

He complains the bill “picks winners and losers in industry, creating artificial demand for inefficient technologies.”

Lee argues that what Congress should do is the very opposite. “Instead of chilling innovation and competition, we ought to decentralize power and champion trust in the private sector.”

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