Sen. Bernie Sanders took to the Senate floor Wednesday to criticize fellow members of Congress for working to approve billions of dollars in handouts to major corporations as the country is embroiled in a worsening cost-of-living crisis, a deadly pandemic, and an intensifying climate emergency.
"What is Congress doing right now, at a time when we face so many massive problems?" asked Sanders, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee. "The answer is that for two months, a 107-member conference committee has been meeting behind closed doors to provide over $50 billion in corporate welfare with no strings attached to the highly profitable microchip industry."
"No, we're not talking about healthcare for all," the Vermont senator lamented. "No, we're not talking about making higher education affordable. No, we're not talking about making sure that young people can earn decent salaries when they become teachers. No, we're not talking about leading the world in combating climate change. We're talking about giving $50 billion in corporate welfare with no strings attached—a blank check—to the highly profitable microchip industry."
The legislation drawing Sanders' ire is the long-stalled United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), a bill purportedly designed to bolster domestic semiconductor manufacturing—an industry that has been lavished with taxpayer subsidies in recent years—and ramp up investment in research and development.
As Politico describes it, the USICA "would shower the semiconductor industry with $52 billion of incentives to ramp up chip-making in America."
"China hawks like the bill because it makes the U.S. less reliant on Chinese imports," the outlet adds. "The Biden administration hails it as a policy that will strengthen the supply chain, boost domestic manufacturing, and 'help us outcompete China.'"
A bipartisan conference committee made up of lawmakers from both the House and the Senate is currently working to reconcile the differences between versions of the legislation passed by each chamber.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, is threatening to tank the bill entirely if Democrats move ahead with a party-line reconciliation package that aims to lower prescription drug prices and boost renewable energy funding.
Punchbowl reported Thursday that top Senate Democrats are mulling whether to just "pass $52 billion in funding for semiconductor manufacturers instead of a broad USICA package."
Sanders, who voted against the Senate bill's passage in March, has argued that the USICA should contain safeguards to ensure that taxpayer funding doesn't go to companies that engage in union-busting, offshore U.S. jobs, or buy back their own stock. In May, Republican and Democratic senators voted down motions from Sanders that encouraged such conditions.
The progressive senator has also spotlighted a provision of the USICA that would approve $10 billion in NASA funding for moon landers, money that Sanders has warned could benefit billionaire Jeff Bezos. Sanders has urged lawmakers to strip the provision from the bill.
"If you can believe it," Sanders said Wednesday, "this legislation may... provide a $10 billion bailout to Jeff Bezos, the second-wealthiest person in America, so that his company, Blue Origin, can launch a rocket ship to the moon."
I know this may be a radical idea in the halls of Congress, but no, I do not believe that this legislation should approve a $10 billion bailout for Jeff Bezos to fly to the moon," Sanders added. "Maybe, just maybe, a middle class which is struggling, which is falling behind, should not see their taxpayer dollars go to the second-wealthiest person in America."