WASHINGTON Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., has a quick answer when asked if President Joe Bidens hopes of reviving bipartisanship in the nation’s capital can recover from a rough start: China.
If he decides to step up he and his administration and is really hard on China moving forward, I look forward to working with him on making sure that we out-innovate, out-compete, and out-grow the Chinese, and also starve them of the capital that they need to continue to build their slaveholder state and their blue-water navy, Young said.
Young is not alone in his assessment. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been stoking support for action aimed at China, with a goal of getting bipartisan legislation on the floor in spring.
Schumer said the package needs three elements: Enhancing U.S. competitiveness on manufacturing and innovation; bolstering U.S. partnerships with NATO and India; and new measures to “expose, curb and end, once in for all, Chinas predatory practices.
On the China bill, we have good bipartisan support, Schumer. D-N.Y., told reporters on Tuesday, saying he has instructed committee chairs to work with your Republican colleagues to get this over the finish line.
His counterpart also sees an opening.
If any issue is ripe for a regular-order bipartisan process, it is this one, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday, adding that military spending is a “crucial first step and semiconductors and science research are openings for compromise.
Schumer and Young are co-sponsors of the Endless Frontier Act, which would commit over $100 billion to promote emerging technologies that Chinas government is working to promote as well, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing and robotics.
The version introduced in the previous Congress drew an eclectic mix of sponsors, including conservatives like Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., moderates like Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Blue Dog Democrats like Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and coastal liberals like Sen. Jeff Merkley, R-Ore.
Its a positive answer to a lot of the anxieties about the rise of China, said co-sponsor Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., an influential policy voice among progressives who represents Silicon Valley and has warned of Chinas authoritarian capitalism in speeches.
The agreement could still be scuttled by politics.
There are also concerns over how to approach the issue with sensitivity amid fears anti-China sentiment could contribute to racist attacks against Asian Americans.
Democrats and Asian American groups widely criticized former President Donald Trumps mocking use of phrases like Kung Flu during the pandemic because they warned it stoked hatred at home.
Officials should be extremely precise when describing the government of China as opposed to the Chinese, because I think that given whats happening in U.S. society to Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans we owe everyone that kind of precision Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said in a hearing on Thursday.
‘Win the 21st century’
Washington is being pushed to find consensus on China, observers in both parties say.
The crackdown on Hong Kongs democracy movement, the abuse of minority Uyghurs, widening surveillance state, and confrontations with American companies over speech have shocked both parties. Military hawks are worried about Chinas stance toward allies like Taiwan and whether its expanding tech companies could undermine national security.
The rise of Trump in the GOP and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party have elevated voices more willing to subsidize industry at home aimed at countering China’s own domestic investment. Some on the left see an opportunity to build support for key climate priorities, like advancing clean energy and electric vehicles, as part of an effort to outpace similar efforts in China.
Chinas handling of the early coronavirus outbreak within its borders worsened tensions while the disruption to worldwide supply chains raised concerns about whether the U.S. had become too dependent on manufacturers abroad for things like medical supplies, either in China or elsewhere.
Theres an understanding that what allowed us to win the Cold War with the Soviet Union was our Sputnik moment, where we had 2 percent of GDP going to science and technology, Khanna said. Were not going to win the 21st century if we fall behind China on critical technologies.
Washingtons concerns are reflected among the public as well. A Gallup survey in March found only 20% of Americans had a favorable impression of China, by far the lowest number ever recorded since the pollster began tracking the question over 40 years ago.
The turn towards a Cold War-style economic standoff has detractors.
Scott Lincicome, a senior fellow at the libertarian CATO Institute, said there were legitimate fears about a rising China, but that there was less evidence their state interventions in the economy, like a high-profile Made in China 2025 initiative, were succeeding.
You have China Hawk Republicans and pro-economic interventionist Democrats joining hands deciding to throw money at stuff, Lincicome said. Then you throw in very smart lobbyists who see an opportunity for money.
There are also skeptics among progressives. Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has argued aggressive measures to bring back manufacturing jobs from overseas may not solve the problem.
“I do worry that we will see a lot of nonsense about the need to strengthen our supply chains as an excuse for lots of trade policies that don’t make a lot of sense,” Baker told NBC News.
‘The one last bastion of bipartisan policy’
The politics, abetted by agreement on Chinas bad behavior, tilt toward bipartisan action.
The prospects of getting a deal done are very high, said Zack Cooper, a research fellow and expert on U.S,-China relations at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. China policy is the one last bastion of bipartisan policy on the national security side.
Cooper said Republicans agree with Schumers three goals, but that there may be some differences, such as GOP lawmakers wanting to spend more on defense or Democrats wanting to give the state a larger role in the domestic market.
Election-year politics have impeded cooperation in the past. Democrats declined to join a House GOP committee on China in 2020, reportedly out of fears it would be used as a vehicle to excuse the administrations coronavirus response.
Trump often played up his confrontation with Chinas leadership on trade and withdrew from the World Health Organization over objections to Chinas influence, a decision Biden reversed. Democrats, including Schumer, attacked Trump for not pushing China harder on certain trade issues and for downplaying human rights concerns.
But Democrats and Republicans approved new support for semiconductor manufacturers in a defense bill that passed last year, an issue Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas and Mark Warner, D-Va. have made a focus.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. has sponsored a variety of China-related bills, some with Democrats, including one with Merkley aimed at blocking goods made by forced Uyghur labor, one to incentivize mining for rare earth minerals, and one to block certain Chinese companies from accessing U.S. capital.
Addressing Chinas threat to our nation is certainly an area where we should be able to come to an agreement, Rubio said in a statement. A truly bipartisan bill would push back against the CCPs misdeeds, protect against its exploitation of American openness, and invest in the capacity we need to compete.