The House Foreign Affairs Committee advanced a bill to counter China along a party line vote of 26-20 on Thursday as Republicans criticized the measure as too focused on climate change and too soft on Beijing.
It was a rare instance of discord amid an emerging consensus in Congress that the U.S. should take a harder line against China and comes several weeks after the Senate passed a $250 billion package of legislation with bipartisan support to bolster domestic research and development to better compete with the world’s second-biggest economy.
Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, said there were things in the bill, chief among them confronting climate change, on which he and his party were not willing to compromise.
“One of those big issues was climate change,” he said, opening two days of debate on the bill. “If we’re going to deal with climate change, you have to deal with China.”
The action comes as Congress and the Biden administration step up pressure on Beijing, with a warning expected for companies about doing business in Hong Kong, new import controls for the Xinjiang region and talks about a digital trade agreement that would exclude Beijing. The legislation underscores that even while lawmakers may not agree on the specifics, there is support for additional measures across the government.
The bill has several provisions aimed at emphasizing U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region. It would block goods from the Xinjiang region, similar to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act passed by the Senate on Wednesday and would provide temporary protected and refugee status for Hong Kongers who qualify.
But it was the climate-related measure that primarily drew Republican objections. The legislation would appropriate $8 billion over the next three years for the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund and makes several references to the Paris Climate agreement, which Meeks said was an important paradigm of international cooperation to take on both climate change and China’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the panel’s top Republican, called the legislation a “messaging bill” and said there wasn’t enough oversight over where the money from the Green Climate Fund would go.
He said the measure amounted to “Trojan horse for flawed green climate initiatives.”
“More than $10 billion of it is dedicated to green energy and other climate change-related projects in this bill. Eight billion of that goes to a UN slush fund called the Green Climate Fund,” McCaul added.
McCaul also said there weren’t enough export controls imposed in the legislation.
“Export controls, which are this committee’s most powerful tools to slow down the CCP military and prevent human rights abuses is only mentioned three times in these 600 pages,” McCaul said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party. “And one of those times it is just a definition.”
The Foreign Affairs Committee bill is part of an effort in the House to respond to the United States Innovation and Competition Act that the Senate passed in early June.
That bill provides for the establishment of a new technology directorate within the National Science Foundation with the specific mission of keeping the U.S. ahead of China. The legislation also included more than $52 billion in emergency appropriations to bolster domestic semiconductor manufacturing.
Both Meeks and McCaul, despite their disagreements on the substance of the Foreign Affairs measure, expressed hope that the House and Senate could align their respective bills and appropriate the money for the semiconductor industry.
The House in June passed two bills that authorize a combined $128 billion for the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy as part of that effort.