Chip lobby descends on Washington- POLITICO

With help from Leah Nylen, Rebecca Kern, John Hendel and Sam Sutton

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— The chips are down: The microchip lobby will blitz Capitol Hill today and Thursday as it seeks to secure tens of billions in subsidies and tax credits.

— Jackson weighs in on antitrust and Section 230: President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court pick faced questions on two tech issues — and her responses were revealing. 

— Foreign crypto conundrum: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will mark up a bill this morning to investigate El Salvador’s move to make Bitcoin legal tender.

IT’S WEDNESDAY, MARCH 23. Welcome to Morning Tech! Capitol Hill’s bipartisan fascination with charts will never not be funny to me — when people say Congress is like high school, this is part of what they mean.

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CHIPMAKERS LAUNCH FULL-COURT PRESS: Top executives from chipmakers Intel and Micron are planning to press senators today for the rapid provision of billions in subsidies, while other industry reps work lawmakers and Biden administration officials.

Both parties have thus far been almost uniformly eager to throw money at semiconductor titans (like Intel and Micron) in order to coax them into building manufacturing facilities (called “fabs” in industry parlance) in the United States. But the exact timing is still uncertain — and other industry asks, including big tax credits for research and manufacturing, could prove out of reach.

— Hat in hand: This morning the Senate Commerce Committee will hear from several chip industry officials, including Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger and Micron CEO Sanjay Mehrotra. Both will push lawmakers to move as quickly as possible to a conference reconciling the House’s competitiveness bill (H.R. 4521) with its Senate counterpart (S. 1260), which each include $52 billion in research and manufacturing subsidies for the chip industry. In his planned remarks, shared with MT, Gelsinger will warn lawmakers they’re being left in the dust by foreign rivals.

“As Congress deliberated how to fund the CHIPS Act over the last year, other countries in Asia and Europe have moved forward with their own new or additional incentive programs,” Gelsinger plans to say this morning.

— FABS or bust: In his own remarks shared with MT, Mehrotra will emphasize to lawmakers that $52 billion in subsidies “is necessary but not sufficient,” and will call tax credits “equally important to enable confident long-term investments.” A separate bill, the bipartisan FABS Act (S. 2107), is now being pushed in both the House and Senate and would provide a 25 percent investment tax credit for chip manufacturing (and in the case of the House version, a research tax credit as well).

— Rally the troops: While Gelsinger and Mehrotra will be advocating for assistance in public, the board of directors at the Semiconductor Industry Association will be pushing for help behind closed doors. SIA spokesperson Daniel Rosso said representatives from Intel and Micron, as well as chipmakers GlobalFoundries, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and others, will meet today and Thursday with policymakers including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

In addition to pushing for quick action on the $52 billion in subsidies, Rosso said SIA will ask policymakers to enact the House’s version of the FABS Act.

The chip lobbyists are likely to find a receptive audience. In a press conference with reporters on Tuesday, Raimondo joined Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) in urging lawmakers to quickly pass the subsidies. But when asked whether tax credits for the chip industry will make it through Congress this cycle — perhaps by hitching a ride on the competitiveness package — the officials hedged.

“That’s the magic of sausage-making,” Warner quipped, while Raimondo suggested the issue would “be figured out in conference.”

JACKSON THE TRUST-BUSTER?— Biden’s Supreme Court nominee hinted she may be open to a more expansive reading of antitrust laws during her confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. In response to a question from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jackson said she believes “antitrust laws protect competition and, as you said, therefore protect consumers and competitors and the economy as a whole.”

— All about the word choice: In a 1962 decision upholding a DOJ lawsuit blocking a shoe merger, the Supreme Court famously proclaimed that antitrust laws “are for the protection of competition, not competitors.” The phrase has been repeated ad nauseum, particularly by conservatives opposed to greater enforcement against monopolies (see, for example, one whole section of a controversial report from the Bush-era DOJ entitled “Protection of Competition, Not Competitors”).

But over the past several years, some antitrust advocates have sought to turn the phrase on its head. “We need to remember that there will be no competition without competitors,” Judge Diane Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit said in a 2019 speech that also favorably quoted Lina Khan — the current chair of the Federal Trade Commission who’s widely seen as an aggressive antitrust enforcer — in arguing for a rethink of monopolization law.

By claiming U.S. antitrust law also protects competitors from being crushed by their biggest rivals, Jackson may be signaling support for a more expansive view of antimonopoly enforcement. (It’s also worth noting Jackson is close friends with another antitrust hawk, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter.)

First Amendment backstop: Jackson also appeared to pour cold water on ongoing discussions by lawmakers — mostly Republicans — to condition the protections afforded to tech platforms under the liability shield known as Section 230 on their adherence to viewpoint neutrality. Such a move would require platforms to avoid labeling, throttling or removing content due to its political bent.

In a response to a question from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that raised that possibility, Jackson called it “generally impermissible,” under the First Amendment, for the government to regulate speech “along viewpoint lines.”

SENATE SCRUTINIZES EL SALVADOR’S CRYPTO PLANS: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will mark up bipartisan legislation this morning (S. 3666) that would direct the State Department to produce a series of investigative reports into El Salvador’s first-in-the-world adoption of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin as legal tender. The agency would be tasked with looking into whether the Central American nation’s effort, announced in September, poses a risk to the United States, including by facilitating sanctions evasion or obscuring suspicious digital transactions.

Alex Gladstein, a Bitcoin expert and the head of strategy at nonprofit advocacy group the Human Rights Foundation, said the markup is proof El Salvador’s financial experiment is being taken seriously in Washington.

Gladstein thinks the Senate is pursuing the legislation because it’s worried El Salvador is “directly providing a parallel structure to the existing way foreign aid and monetary assistance is given.” He added that the bill seems designed to force the State Department to cast aspersions on El Salvador’s Bitcoin plans.

— Nervous lawmakers: The bill was introduced by Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the committee’s ranking member, with additional support from Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). When asked for comment, Risch’s office pointed MT to an earlier statement where the senator said El Salvador’s move to use Bitcoin as legal tender “raises significant concerns about the economic stability and financial integrity” of the country and has the “potential” to weaken U.S. sanctions and empower criminals. A Menendez spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

— Rising skepticism: The movement on Risch’s bill follows Menendez’s co-sponsoring of legislation introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that would force crypto traders in the U.S. to report more information about large transactions made through offshore exchanges. National security concerns, along with maintaining the supremacy of the U.S. dollar, were also central to President Joe Biden’s recent executive order calling for whole-of-government policy recommendations for regulating digital currencies.

— Forest for trees: Gladstein said some of Congress’ concerns may be driven by the behavior of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, who spearheaded the country’s recent Bitcoin push as he worked to dismantle many of its democratic institutions. Gladstein said Washington seems eager to criticize Bukele’s slide into autocracy, but is “focusing on criticizing the Bitcoin piece” instead of highlighting the technology’s potential to improve the financial stability of emerging nations.

“I feel like our lawmakers are, in this case, a little lost,” said Gladstein.

BIDEN’S TECH NOMS HIT FLOOR SNAG — Senate Democrats likely won’t be setting up floor votes this week on Biden’s long-pending FTC and FCC nominees, according to Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). “We’re missing a few people,” she told John on Tuesday, citing the absence of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) due to Covid, as well as a few other Democrats.

— Reminder: FCC nominee Gigi Sohn and FTC nominee Alvaro Bedoya are key to Democratic majorities at both agencies, and their confirmations would allow Biden’s FCC and FTC chiefs to pursue their long-deferred progressive agendas. But every Democratic vote may be needed to overcome GOP pushback. “It’s all about who shows up,” Cantwell said.

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is the newest member of the 5G for 12GHz Coalition. … Loni Mahanta is the new head of policy and government affairs at OpenSea. … Hetal Doshi is the new acting deputy assistant attorney general for antitrust. … Brant Imperatore and Rick Dearborn of Cypress Advocacy have been hired by Meta to lobby on antitrust and competition bills.

Yandextroyed: Wired reports on the rapid, full-scale implosion of Russian tech giant Yandex — think Google meets Uber meets Amazon — in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Greening crypto: Bitcoin miners hope to prove their electricity-guzzling operations don’t have to be (too) bad for the environment, according to the New York Times.

New chips, who dis: Reuters reports Nvidia has unveiled several new graphic chips and technologies that the company claims will decrease how long it takes to train AI models.

@[email protected] [email protected]: The Russian invasion of Ukraine has spawned an army of military “experts” on social media platforms dispensing “advice” to warfighters, according to Vice’s Motherboard.
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