WASHINGTON – At a time when so much of politics is defined by what people oppose and what makes them angry, Sen. Todd Young wants to build an aspirational Republican Party.

An example of that effort is his signature piece of legislation, the Endless Frontier Act. It’s a $250 billion package designed to bolster U.S. technology, advanced manufacturing, research and development and workforce skills in those areas so that the country can better compete with China.

The measure, which Young wrote with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was incorporated into the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 that passed the Senate, 68-32, on June 8. Earlier this week, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee passed that chamber’s version of the bill on a voice vote, sending it to the House floor.

Plenty of Americans have suffered job losses and social and psychological setbacks due to globalization, and automation. Another culprit is the intense economic rivalry with China.

Young describes the victims of these trends as having “lost agency” in their lives.

“All of this has led to disruption and the hollowing out of certain communities that people know as home,” Young said in a June 9 media conference call. “It’s also caused economic dislocation as people try to acquire the skills and try to get an on-ramp into this 21st Century economy…and live lives of meaning. This legislation is a key component of that vision.”

The bill also is a way for Young to try to shape the Republican Party, which has often been defined by voters who have grievances about China, liberals and perceived cultural slights.

The avatar of that attitude is former President Donald Trump, although Young would never say that given that he is up for reelection and either needs Trump to support him or stay on the sidelines.

The Endless Frontier Act seems to be saying: Don’t get mad about China, get even or, better yet, get ahead of it. Unlike GOP colleagues who tend to label much government spending as misguided, Young argues in favor of targeted government expenditures.

For instance, his bill would allocate $10 billion to establish regional technology hubs to “seed the next Silicon Valleys across the heartland,” Young said.

“We ought to be the party of smart investment as opposed to profligate investment and ensuring that we bring everyone along into the 21st Century,” he said.

That approach “will not breed resentment. Instead, it will breed the exact opposite,” Young said. “It will reinvigorate our institutions…and breathe new life into our nation and our national unity at a time when we’re experiencing on seemingly every front a period of disunity.”

My question on the media conference call regarding the Endless Frontier Act and the future of the Republican Party launched a seven-minute Young soliloquy that he acknowledged started to sound like a Senate floor speech.

“I intend to play a leading role as a Republican senator from the state of Indiana [in] ensuring the Republican Party takes this road as opposed to what might be an easier road of populism and harboring envy and resentment at a time when we see demagogues on the left doing that and we see some on the right doing it as well,” Young concluded.

Hoosier opposition 

The vote count in the Senate showed how far Young has to go in trying to influence the direction of the party, if the Endless Frontier Act is his vehicle. All 32 senators who opposed it were Republicans, including Indiana Sen. Mike Braun. Braun’s office told HPI the Senator believes “red ink is going to do us in faster than Red China, so while he agrees the U.S. must stay competitive in science and tech innovation, we cannot do it through hundreds of billions in deficit spending without offsets, and we must ensure that taxpayer funds are not being used to fund research which does not respect the sanctity of human life such as experiments using fetal tissue obtained from an abortion or unethical research into animal-human hybrids, both of which amendments were voted down by Democrats in the Senate.”

Hoosier GOP support doesn’t look much stronger on the House side.”

The Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus of the House chaired by Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd CD, opposes the bill because “it would allocate over $100 billion in taxpayer dollars to federal agencies and higher education institutions that are unlikely to quickly create meaningful innovations to aid our competition with China,” the group said in a recent statement.

RSC spokesman Mitchell Hailstone, who did not provide a statement from Banks himself, added in an email: “Conservatives across the spectrum realize this bill does the opposite of what it’s supposed to do – which is help us compete with China. It actually helps the Chinese Communist Party by not doing nearly enough to protect American intellectual property from Chinese espionage and theft.”

Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd CD, hasn’t taken a position. “One of the key lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic has been that we can’t trust the Chinese Communist Party, and we need to reduce our dependence on China for essential materials and products,” Walorski said in a statement to HPI. “That’s why I’ve worked across the aisle on legislation to strengthen U.S. manufacturing of PPE and other critical medical supplies so we are better prepared for the next crisis. I applaud Senator Young for his leadership in offering solutions aimed at boosting American innovation and economic competitiveness. I look forward to closely reviewing the details of this bill or any related legislation that comes to the House floor for a vote.”

Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-5th CD, is reviewing the bill, said spokesman Nick Goodwin.

The Endless Frontier Act is one of the few strongly bipartisan bills that Congress is likely to pass. The challenge for Young is to convince Republican dissenters that the measure is the best way to compete with China – and serve as a roadmap for the GOP’s future. 

Schoeff is Washington correspondent for Howey Politics Indiana.