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Biden, suddenly on a hot streak, signs semiconductor bill as businesses boost investment

Aug. 9, 2022 Updated Tue., Aug. 9, 2022 at 11:38 a.m.

By Eli Stokols Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden signed a broad competition bill into law Tuesday that will direct $52.7 billion toward domestic semiconductor research and development as part of an effort to make the U.S. less dependent on China and other Asian nations.

Industry CEOs who attended the signing ceremony at the White House announced roughly $50 billion in new investments, lending additional significance to the first of several victories the administration plans to celebrate this week. Micron Technology Inc. is leading the charge with a $40 billion investment in memory chip manufacturing, a move the White House said would create 40,000 new jobs.

Biden, speaking before he signed the legislation into law on the South Lawn of the White House, called the bill “a once in a generation investment in America itself” that comes during a moment of global upheaval and amid a still unsettled battle between the world’s democracies and autocracies.

“We know there are those … who seek division instead of strength and unity, who tear down rather than build up,” Biden declared. “Today is the day for builders. Today America is delivering.”

Two days removed from a second period of isolation due to his rebound case of COVID-19, Biden fought a persistent cough as he delivered his remarks, pausing for several sips of water between triumphant declarations. “We are better positioned than any other nation in the world to win the competition for the 21st century,” he said.

Suddenly riding a wave of momentum after a long legislative lull, Biden is poised later Tuesday to sign the accession protocols that clear the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO. On Wednesday, he plans to sign the $280-billion PACT Act, which will provide healthcare and benefits for veterans injured by wartime exposure to toxins. Lawmakers are poised to deliver an even bigger Democratic victory if the House approves the $700 billion Inflation Reduction Act, the package of climate investments and prescription drug reforms passed by the Senate on Sunday.

The legislative whirlwind, a strong jobs report and a successful counter-terrorism mission that killed the leader of al-Qaida offer Biden and Democrats the opportunity to show voters this fall that they have accomplished a great deal despite their narrow congressional majorities.

“For all the division in our country, we’ve shown ourselves and the world that we can take on the biggest challenges,” Biden said after ticking off those recent legislative successes. “That’s why I’m confident that decades from now people will look back on this week, with all we’ve passed and all we’ve moved on, that we’ve met the moment at this inflection point in history.”

The CHIPS and Science Act, which first passed the Senate in June 2021 but lingered in the House for months, ultimately passed with bipartisan approval after lawmakers spent more than a year reconciling the two chambers’ versions of the bill.

Despite the bill’s slow legislative journey — and a threat by Senate Republicans to scuttle it altogether if Democrats attempted to pass a major domestic spending bill using the budget reconciliation process that requires just 50 votes — lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have long agreed on the importance of reinvigorating America’s technology sector.

Only 10% of the world’s semiconductors, which are crucial to the manufacture of automobiles, appliances and even defense systems, are currently made in the U.S., with East Asia producing 75% of the world’s supply.

The new law will provide $39 billion in manufacturing incentives for U.S. companies, and $10 billion in investments to boost regional economic development in technology hubs across the country.

“We are showing the world that America can get things done in a bipartisan way when it matters,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. “This couldn’t have come at a more urgent moment,” she added. “Our over-reliance on foreign manufacturers is a real liability. But that’s going to change.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lauded Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer for their work on the legislation, declaring that because of its “game-changing investments” in science and technology, “America is better equipped than ever before to compete for and win the 21st century.”

One development that threatens to divert attention from Tuesday’s bill signing — and Biden’s winning streak — is the political and legal fallout from the FBI’s raid Monday of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, which immediately dominated television news coverage and carries major implications for an already polarized nation.

When the signing ceremony got underway, none of the major cable news networks carried it live, sticking with panel discussions about the Trump raid instead. But CNN and MSNBC cut live to the White House once Biden stepped to the lectern.

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