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March 31, 2022 3:38 PM, EDT

Congressional Negotiations Ramp Up on Supply Chain, Semiconductor Package

Pat Gelsinger"Polls consistently show Americans understand the importance of the chip-making industry to the U.S. economy and national security," Intel Corp. CEO Pat Gelsinger says. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News)

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WASHINGTON — Recent passage in the U.S. Senate of comprehensive legislation aimed at boosting domestic manufacturing of semiconductors is helping to set in motion formal negotiations with House lawmakers.

As the House prepares to consider the Senate-passed bill, bipartisan debate on a final version of the bill appears imminent.

The objective from sponsors of what’s termed as the Bipartisan Innovation Act is to resolve differences in versions of the Senate- and House-passed bills to arrive at legislation capable of receiving President Joe Biden’s signature before summer. A previous version of the bill was known as the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA).

A key provision sponsors plan to include in any final version is dedicating more than $50 billion to facilitate production of semiconductors. Supply chain bottlenecks have contributed to a slowdown of such semiconductor chips, which are said to be essential in everyday electronics and the commercial transportation landscape.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Commerce Committee on freight affairs, repeatedly has urged colleagues to negotiate on the semiconductor, supply chain-centric measure.

“We have an opportunity to help establish, on a continued basis, American leadership in technology, to employ more people to help our country compete in the economy of the future. But we can’t do that if we don’t get legislation passed, and we can’t continue to wait for people who don’t want to go to [legislative] conference [negotiations],” Cantwell said prior to the Senate’s action on the bill.

“By 2030, there could be more than 10 million new jobs in clean energy, advanced manufacturing, communication and in computing. All of those, guess what, depend on us making sure that we do the right amount of [research and development] and making sure that we help in bringing U.S. manufacturing back to the United States,” the senator continued.

Technicians inspecting a semiconductor

Technicians inspect a semiconductor wafer during testing at the Tower Semiconductor Ltd. plant in Migdal HaEmek, Israel, on Feb. 28. (Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg News)

Expected to be tucked in the semiconductor bill are provisions from the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, versions of which have recently been approved by the House. A version sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) takes aim at the Federal Maritime Commission by requiring carriers to issue certain reports to the commission each quarter. The bill also would authorize the commission to self-initiate certain investigations partly related to late fees, and it would pave the way for the registration of shipping exchanges.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, John Thune

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.)

“Congestion at ports and increased shipping costs pose unique challenges for U.S. exporters who have seen the price of shipping containers increase four-fold in just two years, raising costs for consumers and hurting our businesses,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “Meanwhile, ocean carriers that are mostly foreign-owned have reported record profits.”

The White House has endorsed negotiations on the semiconductor legislative package on Capitol Hill. Press Secretary Jen Psaki affirmed, “We look forward to the House of Representatives moving quickly to start the formal conference process.

Jen Psaki

Psaki

“We’ve made remarkable progress over the last year in rebuilding our industrial base, including by creating more manufacturing jobs last year than in any year in almost three decades, and by making a historic and long-overdue investment in our nation’s infrastructure.”

She added, “Competitiveness legislation like the Bipartisan Innovation Act is our chance to build on that success and create good-paying jobs, make more in America and lower prices for working families.”

Pressing lawmakers from the sidelines are key industry stakeholders. Tech and freight transportation firms have been sounding the alarm on the need to revamp domestic semiconductor production.

“Time is of the essence: American businesses in every sector across the economy are facing a semiconductor shortage, and the only way to alleviate the current supply-demand imbalance long term is to increase manufacturing capacity,” Intel Corp. CEO Pat Gelsinger told Cantwell and her colleagues on the Commerce Committee recently. “Polls consistently show Americans understand the importance of the chip-making industry to the U.S. economy and national security, and widespread support for congressional action to allocate federal funding for the industry.”

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