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‘Chips and Science’: Tech Bill Loses Name Inspired by WWII Icon

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 7/27/2022 Daniel Flatley

(Bloomberg) -- When Senator Todd Young first introduced a bill to re-invent US research and development for the 21st Century, he chose a name that would inspire the nation’s scientists and innovators to boldly go, as Star Trek advised, where no one has gone before.

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It was called the “Endless Frontier Act,” a nod to WWII-era inventor and public policy guru Vannevar Bush, who wrote a 1945 landmark report laying the groundwork for the National Science Foundation.

But by the time the bill came to the Senate floor for final passage on Wednesday, the churn through the congressional grinder had stripped out the inspirational origins. 

“We’re calling it the ‘Chips and Science’ bill,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Young’s partner on the legislation, said with an air of resignation. “After many different names, this is the final name.”

The story of how the bill, which runs to more than 1,000 pages, wound up sounding like an unappetizing side dish at a space-themed restaurant is in many ways a reflection of how unusual the process of crafting big bipartisan pieces of legislation is in Washington today.

Known at various points as the US Innovation and Competition Act, the Bipartisan Innovation Act and the COMPETES Act, the titles changed over time to show the points of view of the legislation’s authors. The names were numerous and so were the number of conference committee members appointed to hash out differences between the House and Senate versions, which helps account for the slow pace of development.

Sitting in his Senate office on a recent morning, Young, an Indiana Republican, pondered over the process while he attempted to reattach a button to his suit jacket using a small sewing kit. 

“I’ve seen this institution operate dysfunctionally for years,” said Young, a Naval Academy graduate and former Marine who was elected in 2016. “It’s been frustrating.”

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Young wanted a return to what is known as regular order -- ideas fashioned into legislation that is vetted and refined by various committees with expertise and attracting bipartisan support -- rather than bills generated by a small cadre of leaders.

He achieved some measure of success. To get it moving through Congress, the bill was chopped down to mostly a $52 billion package of incentives for semiconductor companies. 

Through texts, phone calls and conferences, Young worked with colleagues across the aisle, including Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona, to incorporate significant elements of the science-focused portion of the original bill into the chips funding. Hence the new name from Schumer, “Chips and Science,” and passage Wednesday on a bipartisan 64 to 33 vote. 

Technically, it’s still officially called the Chips Act of 2022. As the bill heads to the House, where it’s expected to pass later this week, the title will likely get changed again. 

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