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How will legislation known as the CHIPs bill help the economy?

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

President Biden is expected to sign a bill soon that's the result of a rare show of bipartisan unity on Capitol Hill. Last week, Congress passed legislation that invests billions of dollars in American-made technology, specifically those tiny microchips that power our computers and cars. But this bill is not just about the economy. It's also about national security. It's intended to give the United States a competitive edge over China. Senator Maria Cantwell is a Democrat from Washington state. She's one of the architects of this bill known as the CHIPS Act. And she joins us now. Thank you so much, Senator, for coming on MORNING EDITION.

MARIA CANTWELL: Good morning, Asma.

KHALID: So, Senator, this is a $280 billion bill. And I want you to get specific with us here. Where will we see some of this money go?

CANTWELL: Well, specifically, you'll see this money go to attract and incent the development of chip design in the United States. That's the key technology that we want to lead the world in. This is something we've fallen off of in the past. We used to be producing 31% of these chips in the United States, and we fell down to 12. But not only do we want to get that number back up. We want to design the next generation of chips for new technologies.

KHALID: And when we talk about job growth, then, I mean, are we talking about years out at this point to see some of these benefits from this piece of legislation?

CANTWELL: Oh, no, no, no. We're talking now. We're talking - we're in a horse race, if you will. We are in the information age. And people want to say, where are we going to develop the next best generation of chip technology? We want them to say in the United States of America. That's why we're passing this bill. It is literally a historic moment in the history of our race to lead in manufacturing and in key sectors that are going to be dependent on these chips. So you'll see very soon groundbreakings in Ohio, Arizona, Texas and other parts of the United States where we're going to be attracting that investment and getting those jobs here.

KHALID: I want to ask you about some of the criticism of this bill. We heard Senator Bernie Sanders say that the bill gives blank checks to profitable microchip companies. What is your response to this sort of criticism?

CANTWELL: America's future isn't guaranteed. We have to earn it. And in an information age, one of the key things that you have to do is make the United States the basis for that technology ecosystem. And since we've fallen off as a percentage of GDP our investment in research and development, that research and development has gone overseas to other countries, and so we've fallen behind. This represents an opportunity for 300,000 jobs in the United States that are going to be well-paying jobs based on the technology of the future. But we have to invest in the R&D.

KHALID: Senator, are there...

CANTWELL: The United States used to be 2% of our GDP in R&D, and we've fallen down to 0.6%. So it's time to up the investment.

KHALID: Senator, are there guarantees in this bill that microchip companies will use the money to add jobs here in the United States? And what's to prevent them from, you know, taking some of this money and put it into factories or facilities abroad?

CANTWELL: Well, two things. There are guardrails in the bill that say that that has to happen. And we have a great secretary of commerce who also has the ability to then claw back these dollars given to companies if, in fact, the development goes overseas. So Commerce Secretary Raimondo has been very clear that this has to be a U.S. investment.

KHALID: My understanding is that the CHIPS Act that you all passed last week is, in fact, a slimmed down package of what you had originally wanted. Are there going to be any efforts to revive some of the nuggets that did not make it into this final bill?

CANTWELL: Yes, I hope we'll still work in a bipartisan fashion. Besides the investment in chips, this bill has a lot in workforce training because these are great jobs for the future, STEM to give the next generation of young people really thinking about these sectors of our economy. But we will come back to the table and look at other aspects of the foreign policy and security that weren't part of this legislation and hopefully get them in a revised conference report later in the fall.

KHALID: You know, Senator, just briefly, you mentioned bipartisanship. This bill certainly had a good number of Republicans and Democrats support it. Do you have the sense that some of the additional things you all would want to get through could get that level of bipartisan support?

CANTWELL: Yes. Literally, the bill came out of seven different committees, and we just passed the biggest chunk of what that is, the future of America in high tech. But we have to do the rest of it, and we have to keep working together to show people we can collaborate.

KHALID: All right. Thank you very much, Senator.

CANTWELL: Thank you.

KHALID: That's Senator Maria Cantwell. She chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.