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Democrats charge McConnell spending bill ploy aids China’s global ambitions

Democrats are saying Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is hurting the United States’ ability to compete with China by holding a bill aimed at boosting American industry hostage to block their party-line spending bill. 

McConnell, R-Ky., announced his position in a tweet Friday afternoon, saying that “there will be no bipartisan USICA as long as Democrats are pursuing a partisan reconciliation bill.” 

That threat from McConnell could change the political calculus for congressional Democrats. They were trying to pass both the China bill, called the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), and a reconciliation spending bill before the end of the summer.

“It’s unfortunate that Senator McConnell has taken this approach. Clearly, that’s not an approach that’s going to help the American public,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday. “This competition bill is so is important for many reasons. So we’re going to continue to work with Congress to get this done.”

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Jean-Pierre was more frank in a written statement. She said, “Senate Republicans are literally choosing to help China out compete the U.S. in order to protect big drug companies,” that a reconciliation bill may go after. 

Rep. Ro Khanna was slightly more diplomatic but no less pointed about the stakes of the USICA. Khanna is a member of the conference committee currently working out the House and Senate versions of the USICA and a major driver of the legislation.

“I’d love to just sit down with Senator McConnell for 30 minutes to convince them that this is one of the most important things for American preeminence in the 21st century,” he said. “And I don’t want to score political points. I don’t want to get blame. I’m not saying it’s Democrat or Republican. I just want to get this done because as a congressperson from Silicon Valley, I get the importance of semiconductor production in the United States.”

McConnell supports the USICA. He helped a version of it make it out of the Senate with significant GOP support and regularly touts the bipartisan effort as an example of good things the Senate can get done with the 60-vote filibuster in place. 

But Democrats appear to be nearing a deal on a reconciliation bill Republicans warn will only increase inflation, and McConnell said Tuesday that stopping that is a priority for him. 

U.S. press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre holds the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 16, 2022.

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“We’ve got rampant inflation worse than any time in 40 years Now, believe it or not, even after that, they wanted to do even more,” McConnell said, referring to Democrats. 

“They had this thing that you may remember, called Build Back Better, which is another massive government spending program that came within an eyelash of passing at the end of 2021. Joe Manchin finally rebelled against it right at the end, which is the only thing that kept them from pouring even more fuel on the fire,” McConnell added. “This year they’re still playing around with BBB. If they bring that back, it will only make all of this considerably worse.”

Khanna, meanwhile, pushed back on the idea either the reconciliation bill or the USICA would contribute to inflation. 

“Anything in the reconciliation needs to be paid for, that would prevent inflation,” Khanna said. “And it should be productive investment, investment that is going to have a rate of return. But the case of USICA is it’s clearly all productive investment.”

Representative Ro Khanna speaks to the media as he meets with families from Afghanistan at Warm Springs Community Park on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021 in Fremont, California.

“I don’t understand how the United States Congress, on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis, can’t fund the production of semiconductor chips in the United States,” he also said.

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Members of Democratic leadership, meanwhile, directly accused McConnell of putting the prescription drug industry ahead of the United States’ economy and foreign policy. 

“Sen. McConnell is so beholden to PhRMA that he’s willing to help China, hurt American manufacturing, and screw over Americans with outrageously high Rx prices,” Justin Goodman, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, tweeted. 

“Make no mistake: Senator McConnell is now siding with the Chinese Communist Party against American workers and American industry,” Henry Connelly, a spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “And why? So that the GOP’s pals in Big Pharma can keep ripping off Americans struggling to afford their prescriptions.”

It’s not clear exactly what Congress’ next steps on the China and reconciliation bills will be, as neither has a final text yet and campaign season is coming fast.

The China bill is in conference committee, where Khanna says some Senate Republicans like Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, are working to “get to a yes.” Meanwhile, Schumer is negotiating directly with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on reconciliation, and their deal isn’t yet done. Manchin’s office did not comment on the McConnell tweet. 

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