By Michael Martina
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -More than a dozen former senior U.S. national security officials have pressed congressional leaders to quickly pass legislation to boost technology funding, calling it “critical” to compete against China.
A letter signed by 16 officials from past Democratic and Republican administrations – including Leon Panetta, who served as defense secretary under President Barack Obama, and President George W. Bush’s national security advisor Stephen Hadley – said the legislation would “ensure the U.S. stays on the cutting-edge of microelectronics.”
The Senate passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act last year, including $52 billion for the semiconductor industry and authorizing $190 billion to strengthen U.S. technology and research to compete with China.
The House of Representatives began considering its “America Competes” act this week. If it passes, the two chambers will have to resolve differences with the Senate bill.
“This is the time to prioritize comprehensive, bipartisan competitiveness legislation, which will ensure that federal investment matches our national security interests and allows the United States to maintain strengths and comparative advantages against rising adversaries,” the officials wrote in the letter dated Feb. 1, seen by Reuters.
The letter was addressed to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, as well as Republican House and Senate leaders Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell.
Former CIA directors John Brennan and Michael Hayden, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, deputy national security advisor in the Trump administration Matthew Pottinger, and under secretary of defense for policy during the Obama administration Michele Flournoy also signed it.
Signers also included former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, who served on a government artificial intelligence commission, and Jane Harman, a former ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee.
More than 500 amendments to the House bill have been submitted, including one that would bar semiconductor firms receiving government subsidies from paying dividends or repurchasing company stock.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said it was pleased the House had begun to consider its version of the bill, and the largest U.S. labor organization said on Monday it strongly supported the House legislation.
Keith Krach, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment during the Trump administration, who also signed the letter, told Reuters passage of the legislation would bring significant onshoring of semiconductor technology.
“It would do so much to rally high tech companies in the U.S., and it would do a lot around the world to show we’re serious about working together,” he said.
(Reporting by Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)