Editorial: Chips bill compromise would be a win for Ohio, bipartisanship and the nation


A recent editorial by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

In a heartening example of cross-aisle cooperation for the benefit of Ohio, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a suburban Cincinnati Republican, says he’s joining with Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat, to help craft and get across the finish line compromise legislation to benefit the domestic semiconductor industry. Portman and Brown will be part of a bipartisan team negotiating differences in separate semiconductor bills proposed by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Their efforts are critically important to Ohio and the nation. If congressional negotiations are successful, the legislation would subsidize research into, and U.S. production of, semiconductors. Often termed computer chips, semiconductors are tiny devices vital to today’s electronic components, whether in cars or smartphones. Typically composed of silicon, these chips act as a sort of hybrid of conductor and insulator.

But while semiconductors are at the heart of today’s revolution in electronic devices, they also are in short supply, a problem compounded because so much production is overseas while U.S. demand is rocketing.

The Chips for America legislation is aimed at creating incentives to reshore chip manufacture to the United States — and Ohio.

In effect, the semiconductor is as central to today’s economy as the steam and internal combustion engines were during humankind’s earlier technological eras. But the COVID-19 pandemic, by exposing the susceptibility to disruption of international supply lines, likewise revealed the peril of offshoring too much of the vital U.S. manufacture of chips. The technology website CNET reported in March that “the U.S. share of chip manufacturing slid from 37% in 1990 to 12% today.”

Portman told cleveland.com’s Sabrina Eaton that the proposed compromise legislation would provide more than $50 billion for U.S. research and manufacture of semiconductors. That’s vital given conditions now prevailing in the semiconductor market, where U.S. chip manufacture is in catch-up mode, but global demand is booming. The Wall Street Journal reported May 3 that global chip sales exceeded $500 billion in 2021 and that demand could double by decade’s end. At the same time, the newspaper said, “lead times for chip deliveries remain at historic highs.”

Bolstering America’s chip industry is especially vital for Ohio. Intel Corp., the mammoth, California-based technology company, has announced plans to invest $20 billion in semiconductor production in suburban Columbus, creating 10,000 jobs, with economic spinoffs likely to become statewide in scope. If conditions allow, Intel has suggested it could quintuple that Ohio investment.

Portman noted to Eaton a paradox of the semiconductor industry as it now stands, a paradox the new legislation aims to address: “We (the United States) were the ones that came up with the technology and the research for semiconductors, and now, unfortunately, the vast majority of the manufacturing takes place offshore,” he said.

Portman said that the Senate-passed version of the plan includes a measure he devised to protect American technology from global competitors and – in a measure he and Brown worked on – to fight unfair trade practices by overseas manufacturers.

Brown, meanwhile, who chairs the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, said he’d “play a role especially on the labor, trade and Intel-related issues on that committee and in this bill.”

Earlier this year, in a joint letter to legislative leaders calling attention to the nationwide chip shortage, Brown and Portman wrote that “over the summer (of 2021), General Motors, Ford, and other automotive companies announced short-term plant closures in Lima and Toledo, in many cases due to pandemic-related production issues at overseas manufacturers of automotive-grade chips.”

In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden called for passage of the Senate chips-subsidy bill.

Brown told Eaton that House Republicans who opposed the chips legislation did so “because they don’t want Biden to have a victory.” But he added, “The victory is not Biden’s …. The victory is the people in Ohio that are going to benefit from this bill, and that’s going to be millions of Ohioans, ultimately.”

The people of Ohio have benefited before from the bipartisan cooperation that Portman and Brown have demonstrated on issues vital to this state. Their cooperation on semiconductor legislation is but the latest example. Their join quest to boost the semiconductor industry is vital to Ohio’s and America’s future and deserves to yield success in the form of compromise legislation that can win enactment.

— Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 8