Opinion: Bernie Sanders calls a spade a spade on Congress’ massive chipmaker bill

This commentary is by Michael McKenna, president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

Last week, the barefoot boys who run the shoestring operation that is the semiconductor industry, managed to make off with $79 billion of taxpayer cash. They were assisted in this effort by bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress.

In all fairness, the semiconductor crews have had a pretty rough five years, only making around $250 billion in profits.

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

The legislation also includes $200 billion to universities and various parts of the federal bureaucracy and is a prime example of why you should view anything “bipartisan’ with some suspicion.

In the Senate, 17 Republicans inexplicably voted for this transgression against taxpayers. In the House, 24 Republicans voted for it. Only one non-Republican Member of Congress — Sen. Bernie Sanders — voted against it.

These votes lead to a few conclusions. First, some legacy Republicans still can’t seem to shed their Pavlovian response to the demands of the American plutocracy. The semiconductor industry did not need this cash; they wanted this cash. They used the fear of communist China and its eventual invasion of Taiwan as a cudgel against the American taxpayer.

Second, despite the noise, progressives in the Democratic Party are simply apparatchiks with decent social media accounts. How can someone like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez justify handing over 75 billion taxpayer dollars to the oligarchy that is the semiconductor industry? Whatever she and her crew think they might be, in reality, they are just another reliable set of votes for Democratic leadership.

Finally, Sanders is a truth-teller. In the wake of the Senate passing the legislation, the Vermont senator took to the floor and pointed out that there were a variety of social programs — expanded Medicare coverage, addressing homelessness, making community college free to attend, etc. — that Congress had decided were too expensive. Somehow, however, the Senate managed to find billions for a handful of very wealthy and profitable companies and for favored bureaucracies.

He makes a valid and unhappy point.  If you consider yourself a populist or a Trumper or whatever, you probably should be asking why are we shipping cash to companies that, until essentially the last minute with respect to this legislation, were lobbying to retain the ability to spend American taxpayer money in communist China.

In a larger sense, the entire experience of the CHIPS legislation is a cautionary tale about bipartisanship.

The simple reality is that bipartisan legislation of any importance whatsoever should be viewed with skepticism.

Let’s think about three examples.

The last bipartisan energy legislation (in 2007) created the problem of the ethanol fuel mandate which required people — irrespective of their own wishes — to use corn ethanol, and later (in growing amounts) fuels made from other plants, in their gasoline.

Why was the mandate to use ethanol and other biomass-based fuels bipartisan?  Because both sides wanted things — more cash for corn growers (Republicans) and more potential market for other biomass-based fuel producers (Democrats) — that could be paid for with someone else’s (drivers) cash.

Just last year, bipartisan votes in Congress gave us the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which spent $1.2 trillion dollars on everything from broadband to ports. The legislation wound up costing about $550 billion more than it otherwise would have, mostly because it turned into a bipartisan feeding frenzy.

The Democrats loaded the legislation up with spending on their pet projects ($66 billion for Amtrak!  $40 billion for transit!). The Republicans got cash for roads and bridges, some earmarks and vague promises that voting for infrastructure legislation would forestall the more gruesome elements of Build Back Better.

The taxpayers got the bill.

In the CHIPS legislation, some Republicans wanted to ship taxpayer money to companies, while the Democrats wanted to ship taxpayer cash to the federal bureaucracy and their friends in academia. The losers? Taxpayers.

There are, of course and unfortunately, lots of other examples.

Bipartisan legislation tends to help elected officials shuttle cash to their friends or solve their problems and stick the taxpayers (or ratepayers or consumers) with the bill. Such legislation is, in many cases, an agreement among “lawmakers” to remain silent about the real pathologies embedded in what they have done.

As George Bernard Shaw once pointed out:  “All professions are conspiracies against the laity.” He was right. In this instance, the professionals are members of Congress, and the voters are the laity.

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore/Flickr
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4 thoughts on “Opinion: Bernie Sanders calls a spade a spade on Congress’ massive chipmaker bill

  1. The fear that China will invade Taiwan and severely constrict the supply of silicon devices to the US is a very possible outcome over the next ten years, leaving the US without a strategic resource it needs to power the military, civilian auto and computing sector, manufacturing, and honestly everything. I’m all for trading and comparative advantage except when it comes to the fact that there is a real chance we could be left to dry of one of the most important resources by an opportunistic invasion or blockade by China.

    Tell me, are you suggesting there is no chance that China invades Taiwan? That is the only premise from which I would accept this article as reasonable.

  2. oh and Sanders……..well he is thinking about re-election is all. does about zero for us until its time to maintain his position. he certainly has not represented me…….
    out out and out you go Bernie……..
    TERM LIMITS……..its way past time to get it done

  3. we need to be bringing all manufacturing home……end of story
    we or our administrations over the years have allowed manufacturing in all sectors to leave the US for cheap labor, less restrictions……and look at us now!
    bring it home, shop local, buy usa made……..
    and drill that oil

  4. As a conservative, I am going to disagree with this author. We are spending $79B over 10 years to move semiconductor chip making back here. The money is primarily for chip manufacturing grants, research investments, and an investment tax credit for chip production. We desperately need chip manufacturing here in the US. Yes the manufacturers are making big profits right now, largely due to cheap foreign labor. Virtually all chips currently come from Taiwan. China will take them over before bonehead leaves office. So we (and the world) desperately need other options. Using tax dollars to bring manufacturing back here is one of the few good uses of our taxes. Trump did the same with oil. While in office we actually became net exporters. Of course bonehead has screwed that up too. Why anyone votes D just amazes me….so clueless.

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