Bring computer chip manufacturing home. Pass the CHIPS Act (Editorial Board Opinion)

It’s been a year since the US Senate passed broad legislation to encourage semiconductor manufacturing in the United States, and six months since the House passed an even broader version of the bill. Talks on a version both chambers can support are bogged down in politics and process — even though both Democrats and Republicans agree semiconductor funding is vital to our country’s economic and national security interests.

With the August recess looming and the fall devoted to campaigning, there is no more time to waste. Congress, just get it done.

There was some progress last week — we hope.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, was prepared to schedule a vote on a slimmed-down version of the bill, the CHIPS Act, providing $52 billion for semiconductor research and manufacturing. The “skinny” bill leaves out some priorities added by House Democrats that Republicans in the Senate would not support.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 64-34 to advance a “CHIPS plus” bill that also contains tax incentives for chipmakers and funding for science initiatives. If the stars align, the bill could come up for a vote this week.

Skinny, plus-sized or otherwise, Congress must pass the CHIPS Act. If it doesn’t, consequences would be swift. Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger told the Washington Post the company would delay construction of a chip fab in Ohio and shift plans for its next factory to Europe, which already has approved subsides.

Why is this bill so important?

Semiconductors are in almost everything, yet only 12% of them are made in the United States. Most chips are manufactured in China, Taiwan and South Korea, which heavily subsidize the industry. The Covid-19 pandemic created chip shortages that are hampering US manufacturers and the military, exposing the fragility of supply chains. The lack of chip-making capacity makes the US vulnerable to disruptions caused by trade or geopolitical disputes. Lack of funding for research cedes the future to our economic rivals — as well as the high-paying, highly skilled jobs in the industry.

Central New York also has a selfish reason to want this bill to pass. The region is courting multiple chip fabs for a site in Clay. In June, the New York state Legislature authorized $10 billion in tax credits over 20 years to promote the growth of “green” semiconductor manufacturing projects — a move Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said was necessary to attract companies to high-cost New York state.

Federal CHIPS legislation is the last piece of the puzzle. We call on Congress to pass it without further delay.

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