Updated: Oct 3, 2022
In the spring of 2020, a group of lawmakers introduced a bill that seemed tailor-made to get passed, even through a divided Congress. The bill, called the Endless Frontier Act would have spent $100 billion on investments in science and technology. The bill’s sponsors included the liberal Democrat Ro Khanna (CA-17) and the conservative Republican Mike Gallagher (WI-8). In the Senate, the bill was sponsored by Indiana Republican Todd Young and New York Democrat Chuck Schumer. The bill’s sponsors stressed the importance of America retaining its competitive edge against China (in order to appeal to Republicans) while also stressing the economic benefits that would result from the bill. But despite this bipartisan effort, the Endless Frontier Act never came up for a vote.
What Was the Endless Frontier Act?
The Endless Frontier Act contained $100 billion dollars to be spent by the National Science Foundation (to be renamed the National Science and Technology Foundation). The NSTF would have a mandate to spend that money on research into the technologies that would allow America to retain its competitive edge in the technologies of the future, energy technology among them. The bill would also allocate funds to go to research centers at American universities and mechanisms to help bring technology from the lab to the marketplace. The bill didn’t specifically define what kind of energy that would be, likely in a bid to not appear biased against any specific type of energy. Even though no specific type of energy was mentioned, one can reasonably assume that green energy technology would have been a major recipient of Endless Frontier funds.
The Fate of the Endless Frontier Act
The Endless Frontier Act was introduced in May of 2020, at a moment when congress was preoccupied with the Covid-19 pandemic. The bill was never assigned to any committee in either the House or the Senate (an essential prerequisite to becoming a law), and never came up for a vote. All of the bill’s sponsors will still be in congress when the 117th Congress convenes in January, and they hope to reintroduce the bill as soon as possible.
The fate of this bill is an important lesson in the extraordinary inertia of congress. Even when there is no one lobbying against a bill and it enjoys bipartisan support, it might still fail to catch on due to bad timing. Those who wish to develop the next generation of energy technology may have to do so in the private sector alone.
Will things get better in 2021?
It remains to be seen whether there will be any more appetite for the Endless Frontier Act in 2021 than there was in 2020. The first priority for the Biden administration is the Covid-19 pandemic, and any bill that doesn’t directly address that will have to wait its turn. Furthermore, control of the senate is split 50-50, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris providing the tiebreaker vote. That doesn’t automatically rule out the passage of the bill, as it enjoys bipartisan support from Republican Young and the new Democratic majority leader Schumer. It’s also encouraging that Biden’s new climate envoy is John Kerry, who co-authored an op-ed with Khanna last year calling for more investment in green energy. If Kerry were to lobby President Biden to support the bill, that would dramatically increase its chances of passing.