A cadre of Republican senators is pushing amendments to the White House’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package to prevent U.S. tax dollars from benefiting China.
The effort comes as Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York is pressing to hold a final vote on the infrastructure package this week. The frantic pace comes even as lawmakers have had little time to review the 2,702-page bill, which was released late Sunday.
Republicans, including Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, argue the least Congress can do while considering the legislation is ensure that no federal tax dollars go to America’s greatest geopolitical adversary, China.
To that end, Mr. Kennedy has introduced an amendment that would prevent federal funds from being spent on products or resources made from forced labor. The amendment specifically targets China’s dominance of the solar-panel market.
China controls roughly 50% of the world’s supply of polysilicon, the material used to construct solar panels. Beijing extracts the resource from the Xinjiang province, where the communist regime is accused of violating the human rights of hundreds of thousands of Uyghur Muslims.
“The Chinese Communist Party is guilty of monstrous human rights violations, and the regime’s cruelty is on full display in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs are suffering in Communist prison camp,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Reports indicate Beijing relies on forced labor in Xinjiang to make solar panels — and other products — many of which it sells to the U.S.”
In July, the Department of Labor recognized Chinese polysilicon as a resource “produced by child labor or forced labor.” But the designation did not stop lawmakers from including incentives for solar panels in the infrastructure package.
“Americans should have no hand in funding the CCP’s atrocities,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Similar amendments introduced by Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming would prohibit federal funding from being used to buy “Chinese-made low-emission buses, ferries or vehicles.”
China produces more than 70% of all electric-vehicle batteries, while the U.S. produces 9%. More troubling is that China controls 80% of the critical minerals used to create the batteries through its trade partnerships with countries accused of using slave and child labor, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Despite that reality, Mr. Biden’s infrastructure package includes $7.5 billion for transitioning to electric buses and ferries.
Another amendment being offered to ensure China does not benefit from the U.S. tax dollars is not directly related to infrastructure. That amendment, offered by GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, would prevent federal employees from downloading and having “Chinese digital currency” on taxpayer-funded devices.
China is poised to be the first major economy to roll out a digital currency ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Intelligence experts, however, say the program could be used to curtail domestic political dissent and capture information from users.
Mrs. Blackburn fears that federal employees attending the 2022 Winter Olympics will use the digital currency for convenience, and thus expose the U.S.’ cybersecurity infrastructure to China.
“Communist China uses the digital yuan to track and surveil not just its citizens, but anyone who utilizes the currency,” she said. “Allowing federal employees to utilize the digital yuan would provide Beijing with yet another opportunity to spy and steal from the U.S. Once China is in your wallet, they will never leave.”
Mrs. Blackburn and the other lawmakers say such changes are required to the deal to prevent China from benefiting from U.S. tax dollars. Some lawmakers are also looking to tighten the package’s “buy American” mandates.
The legislation gives federal bureaucrats wide discretion to grant waivers requiring that infrastructure projects rely on domestic resources and construction materials.
It is unclear if such an amendment or those offered by Sens. Blackburn, Barrasso or Kennedy will be adopted.
Senate Democrats are pushing for a final vote on the infrastructure package this week, but no agreement has been made about how many hours will be given for debate or how many amendments will be accepted.
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