Congress Begins Marathon of Conferencing Work for Innovation & Competitiveness Package
On May 12, 107 members of the House and Senate comprising the conference committee for U.S. innovation legislation held their first meeting to begin work on reconciling their bills. As previously reported, the House of Representatives passed the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing Pre-Eminence in Technology and Economic Strength (COMPETES) Act of 2022 (H.R. 4521) in February. The nearly 3,000-page package is comprised of several bills and other provisions related to advancing the U.S. STEM enterprise and shoring up U.S. scientific competitiveness, especially with respect to China. The COMPETES bill is the House’s response to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) that passed the Senate last year (see past coverage). While the bills are similar in their overarching goals, key differences remain, including their respective approaches for reauthorizing the National Science Foundation and establishing a new tech transfer-focused directorate at the agency.
Earlier this year, House and Senate leadership announced who they have selected to serve on the conference committee charged with reconciling differences between the two bills (House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans). The conference officially kicked off on May 12 when the Senate Commerce Committee hosted the first meeting, chaired by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). The hearing provided the opportunity for each member to give two-minute opening statements about their priorities within the bills. Consistent with past hearings, there were significant differences in the way Republicans and Democrats discussed the bills. Democrats largely focused on the need to revitalize the U.S. R&D enterprise and issues related to the supply chain and other competitiveness issues, while Republicans were laser-focused on competition with China and protecting the U.S. from so-called bad actors. All told, 94 members of the conference committee provided opening statements during this first, marathon meeting, illustrating just how divided members are on many of the bills’ provisions.
Work will continue over the next few months, with some expressing hope that a final agreement can be reached by July 4.