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July 27, 2022 2:11 PM, EDT

Chipmakers Get $52 Billion in Senate Bill to Boost Domestic Output

Intel factoryInside an Intel factory. (Intel Corp.)

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The Senate on July 27 passed legislation that includes $52 billion in grants and incentives for U.S. semiconductor manufacturing, an industry that has steadily lost ground to foreign competitors in recent years.

The 64 to 33 vote comes after more than a year of debate and marks a major legislative victory for President Joe Biden, whose agenda has largely stalled in the Senate, where 60 votes are required to pass most legislation.

The bill is expected to pass the House later this week and then move to Biden’s desk for his signature.

Wall Street is likely to welcome the help. The Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index fell 30% this year through July 26, positioning the gauge for its worst annual performance since 2008. All 30 stocks in the index were down for 2022 as of the July 26 close.

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In addition to the semiconductor funding, the legislation includes money for research and workforce training and 5G wireless technology.

The measure has been presented as both a way to reinvigorate the U.S. industrial base and fortify the country’s national security interests against future supply chain disruptions overseas, where the vast majority of advanced semiconductors are currently produced.

“Our grandchildren will be holding good-paying jobs in industries we can’t even imagine because of what we do today,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said before the final vote on the measure, which he described as being “a long time coming.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the bill was about “national security,” adding that he wished it had cost less. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the legislation would increase U.S. budget deficits by $79 billion over a decade.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has voiced support. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican whose state stands to benefit from the legislation, sponsored the chips funding and has been urging his colleagues to support the measure. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, however, told reporters the evening of July 26 that he would vote no.

Among the key provisions in the package:

  • $39 billion in financial assistance to build domestic semiconductor facilities.
  • $11 billion to fund chips research and workforce development.
  • $2 billion for defense-related chips manufacturing.
  • Restrictions on use of funds for stock buybacks, foreign investment.
  • A 25% investment tax credit for the manufacture of semiconductors and tools to create semiconductors.
  • $500 million for an international secure communications program.
  • $200 million for semiconductor industry worker training.
  • $1.5 billion for public wireless supply chain innovation.
  • Changes and authorizes funding for programs in the National Space and Aeronautics Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Science Foundation.
  • Authorizes new programs under Energy Department.

The measure’s path to passage has taken multiple twists and turns over the past 18 months as lawmakers wrestled with both political and policy priorities, trying to come up with a proposal that would pass both chambers.

It was originally introduced in the Senate last year by Schumer and Sen. Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, under the title “The Endless Frontier Act” and focused on revamping the National Science Foundation and bolstering U.S. competitiveness with China.

A bipartisan group of senators — led by Democrats Mark Warner of Virginia and Mark Kelly of Arizona and Republicans John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas — then succeeded in adding the $52 billion in emergency appropriations for the semiconductor industry, allocating funding for a measure that had previously been enacted as part of the 2021 defense bill.

At several junctures the legislation seemed all but dead, even as chip companies including Intel Corp. warned that delays threatened plans for expanding domestic manufacturing.

Chip fabrication facilities, or fabs, take as many as two to three years to become fully operational, which is one of the reasons why proponents were pushing to pass the legislation as soon as possible.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat and chair of the Commerce Committee, which had jurisdiction over the legislation, said “if we don’t start building here, we’re not going to catch up” on developing new chip technology for the future.

Maria Cantwell

Cantwell

Opposition to the bill in the Senate united socialist Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, with free market conservatives like Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

“If we truly want to beat China, we can’t emulate Beijing’s semi-socialist economic model,” Toomey said in a statement. “The best way to encourage investment, spur economic growth, and enhance American competitiveness is to create policies that benefit all industries, businesses and workers alike.”

Sanders said on the Senate floor that U.S. industrial policy should “not mean the government providing massive amounts of corporate welfare to profitable corporations without getting anything in return.”

In the House, McCarthy and other Republicans oppose the legislation, with some criticizing it for not being tough enough on China. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, called it a “fake China bill” in a tweet.

Young, speaking on Bloomberg Television, said he believed Biden could sign the bill into law as soon as the weekend. “I expect that will happen,” Young said.

The U.S. still leads the world in chip design, but has largely outsourced manufacturing to overseas firms like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. The U.S. share of semiconductor manufacturing has fallen to 12% from 37% since 1990 and the country currently produces none of the most advanced chips, which are made largely in Taiwan.

With assistance from Josh Wingrove and Billy House.

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