After more than a week of Senate floor debate on the Endless Frontier Act (S. 1260), a bipartisan proposal to provide more than $200 billion to enhance the United States’ global research competitiveness, support domestic manufacturing, and address foreign government influence in research, the Senate postponed further consideration of the package until after the Memorial Day recess.
Republicans voiced objections on May 27 to last-minute additions to the bill, forcing the chamber to delay a final vote on the more than 1,400-page bill to the week of June 7. Objections arose after senators introduced more than 600 amendments for consideration during the open amendment process throughout the week of May 24, including an amendment in the nature of a substitute from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), co-lead of the Endless Frontier Act. The substitute amendment, the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (USICA), combined the Senate Commerce Committee-passed bill with new provisions from several other Senate committees that focused on policies to address research security that would impact institutions of higher education [refer to Washington Highlights, May 21].
Eight additional provisions were approved during floor consideration of amendments, including:
- Authorization of $17.5 billion over five years for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
- A sense of the Senate on the need to conduct a comprehensive investigation to determine the origins of COVID-19.
- A prohibition of federal funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
- A prohibition of federal funding for viral gain-of-function research in China.
Amendments that were considered but not approved by the Senate included a prohibition on research on certain human-animal chimeras, limitations on research using human fetal tissue, a requirement for congressional approval for the president to agree to temporarily waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, and a new counterintelligence screening process for all funds provided through the final package.
The Senate is expected to vote on final passage of the competitiveness package on June 8, and a 60-vote threshold is required for final approval of the bill. If passed in the Senate, the House of Representatives could pass the Senate-approved legislation or conference with the Senate to resolve differences between the USICA and the House’s bipartisan alternative the National Science Foundation for the Future Act (H.R. 2225) [refer to Washington Highlights, May 14].