The Senate voted 68-32 Tuesday to pass the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, a wide-ranging package promoted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Todd Young, aimed at countering unspecified threats from China. Young summed up the package’s rationale thus: “When future generations of Americans cast their gaze toward new frontiers, will they see a red flag planted on those new frontiers that is not our own? Today, we answer unequivocally, ‘No.’” Aping a talking point from President Biden, Young added, “Today we declare our intention to win this century, and those that follow it as well.”
It’s an ironic turn of phrase considering that Democrats have yet to pass legislation tackling the single greatest threat humanity faces in this century and those to follow: the climate crisis.
Shortly after the American Rescue Plan passed in March, Schumer decided not to focus on climate legislation, and instead to eke out a bipartisan victory via on an anti-China bill. The idea was to wrap independently popular industrial policy in the language of great power rivalry—or, in other words, to offer Republicans some jingoism in exchange for their support for green-ish manufacturing. More overtly hawkish measures from Senator Robert Menendez’s Strategic Competition Act were folded into the 2,400-page final bill, too. It tracks with recent moves from the Biden administration, which backed the package early on. As Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council’s coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs, said recently of the U.S.-China relationship, “The period that was broadly described as engagement has come to an end… the dominant paradigm is going to be competition.” So what have Democrats gotten in exchange for embracing this manifest destiny nationalism?