The window for federal tech legislation is closing—and Intel is getting grumpy

June 24, 2022, 6:01 PM UTC

Hey Congress, parties are for closers.

Intel delivered that memo loud and clear Thursday, as the chipmaker announced that it will indefinitely delay a much-ballyhooed groundbreaking ceremony for its $20 billion-plus manufacturing plant in Ohio. The decision stemmed, in part, from frustration that Congress has yet to approve $52 billion in proposed government subsidies for the semiconductor industry, an allocation designed to keep the U.S. competitive with Asian and European rivals in the vital sector.

While the move certainly carries an air of political theater—Intel said its initial construction plans and timeline haven’t changed in light of Thursday’s decision—it’s hard to blame the company for baring its teeth.

As Congress’ all-important August recess quickly approaches—a de facto deadline for getting any legislation passed before November’s midterm elections—federal policymakers remain frustratingly mired in the legislative muck on multiple tech-related issues.

The 117th Congress appeared poised to tackle long-standing issues roiling the industry: chip shortages, data privacy, the enormous power of Big Tech giants, and digital censorship, to name a few. But while several bills are going through the legislative grinder, none are guaranteed to pass in the next five weeks.

The Intel example well encapsulates the current political environment for tech reform.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle generally support the $52 billion in funding to boost American semiconductor production. While the governments of China, Taiwan, South Korea, and other Asian nations have helped domestic chip companies steal market share—and helped U.S. outfits set up shop on their soil—American lawmakers have been reluctant to lavish cash on the industry. 

But as the U.S. struggled to import chips during the pandemic, some members of Congress argued that the lack of American chipmaking capacity represented an immediate economic and national security threat.

The current proposal, however, is bogged down in Congress. As Bloomberg reported earlier this month, conservatives are now reluctant to deliver a bipartisan victory to President Joe Biden ahead of the midterm elections, when Republicans hope to retake both chambers of Congress. Democratic leadership, meanwhile, has prioritized other legislation with the August recess approaching.

“Anyone who’s been around here for a while knows that politics can screw up prospects of good legislation passing, especially in a political year,” Sen. Todd Young, an Indiana Republican and sponsor of the bill containing semiconductor subsidies, told Bloomberg. “It just needs to remain a priority.”

Similar squabbling threatens to derail other tech-related bills.

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which would limit the ability of tech giants to promote their own services and products on proprietary platforms, still isn’t a shoo-in to get a full vote in the Senate. The nation’s largest tech companies continue to aggressively lobby against the bill, while questions remain about the Democratic leadership’s appetite for taking on the issue.

The American Data Privacy and Protection Act, which would limit corporate data collection and enshrine individual rights related to personal information, looks even less likely to reach the president’s desk. As Gizmodo detailed Friday, Republicans still want to see major changes to the proposed legislation before passage. The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported Wednesday that Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., fears the bill has “major enforcement holes” and would undercut stronger state privacy laws.

There’s also been little buzz around the Open App Markets Act, which would force Apple and Google to further open up their respective app stores to third-party developers, among other provisions. Ditto for any kind of legislation addressing online content regulation.

As the August recess approaches, tech industry reformers and subsidy-seeking chipmakers alike retain hope that policymakers will be prodded into action. Until then, there’s no time to party.

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Jacob Carpenter


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From the article:

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