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Rubio Argues for American Industrial Policy in Legislative Efforts to Combat China

May 18, 2021 | Comunicados de Prensa

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave a speech on the Senate floor describing the need for strong, American industrial policy in Congress’s ongoing efforts to confront the historic challenge posed by the Chinese Communist Party. A lightly edited transcript of Rubio’s remarks on the Senate floor can be found below. 

Rubio: “A year ago Saturday, the Trump Administration launched something called Operation Warp Speed. At that time, it was a $10 billion program by the government, and it was designed to incentivize pharmaceutical companies to invest in developing, researching, and producing effective treatments and a vaccine for a disease that was ravaging and continues to ravage the world today.  

“Less than four months later a new antibody treatment was beginning to save American lives and improving the outcomes of patients with COVID-19 here in America. 

“And less than 7 months after that Operation Warp Speed program began, Americans began receiving the first dose of two different and highly effective vaccines. 

“But why did the government have to step in? Why did the government have to provide the money? Wouldn’t the ‘market’ have solved this? There was certainly demand. There was certainly a need for it. In fact, I would argue that people probably would have paid whatever it took to get their hands on a vaccine and on new treatments given the level of desperation that existed in May of last year here and around the world.

“Yeah, the market would have eventually developed the antivirals, would have developed the antibody treatments, would have developed the vaccine; the market would have eventually done it without the government stepping in in this dramatic way. 

“But it wouldn’t have done it in the timing that we needed. We needed it right away. Our economy was shut down. Our children were not going to school. Workers had no jobs. Small businesses were being wiped out. Hospitals were being overrun. And people were dying. 

“We were facing a global crisis and a national emergency. It was a moment that required urgent attention and the fastest results possible. And so for the common good of our country, our government partnered with the private sector to reach a targeted end, one that served the interests of our country and our people.  

“In short, we pursued industrial policy, and almost one year to the very day it was announced, life in America is slowly but steadily returning to normal.  

“Now, I first spoke about the need for a 21st-century American industrial policy well over a year before the pandemic hit.  

“Let me tell you that for much of my adult life — much of the time I’ve even paid attention to policy — ‘industrial policy’ was generally sort of a dirty phrase for me. Politically I was raised capitalist orthodox. It’s an economic faith grounded in the belief of less taxes and less government and more freedom. 

“I still believe in less taxes and less government and more freedom. And my faith in capitalism has only grown. Because unlike socialism, the market always produces the most efficient outcome. And usually, generally, invariably, the result of that is prosperity and opportunity. 

“The free market, capitalism, has eradicated more poverty than all the socialist programs in the world combined. But the market is agnostic. It doesn’t take into account the impact that an efficient outcome, a market outcome, would have on a country or on its people. For instance, the market does not take into account the national interest. It’s agnostic. 

“We in public policy cannot be agnostic. The job of those of us who serve in the American government is to make decisions that are in the best interest of America and the people that we serve. And I believe that generally and invariably that usually means supporting a vibrant system of free enterprise in which private businesses invest, innovate, and produce, and government makes it easier for them to do that and gets out of the way.  

“But what do we do? What should we do when the market reaches the most efficient outcome, and the most efficient outcome is one that’s bad for America? Bad for Americans? Or doesn’t meet a crisis at hand fast enough? What is our role when we face such a crisis, one that has to be addressed faster than the market’s ability to do it?  

“This is not a hypothetical problem. It describes what we faced in May of last year when Operation Warp Speed was announced, and it describes many of the important challenges we face today.  

“Over the last twenty years, maybe twenty-five years, the market sent American factories and jobs to other countries. This was the most efficient decision to make because workers in other countries cost less, so it lowered labor costs and increased profits. It was the efficient decision. But it destroyed the jobs of Americans; it shattered families and gutted once vibrant communities.  

“Major American corporations headquartered here in the United States, multinationals, have allowed China to steal their trade secrets and cheat on trade because, for them, gaining access to a small sliver of the growing Chinese market of over a billion people led to profits.  

“This indeed did create short-term profits and extravagant wealth for some, but in the process it began transforming America from a country that invents and makes things into one that increasingly just finances and buys them.  

“It is indeed more efficient to make the active ingredients in many of our medicines in China. It’s cheaper to do it. And so today we find ourselves depending on China to produce the active ingredients in everything from acetaminophen, which is generic for Tylenol, all the way to blood thinners and everything in between.  

“It was cheaper to buy rare-earth minerals from China — still is — than to produce and mine our own, and so today we depend on them for almost 90 percent of these valuable metals that are needed — not just for advanced electronics, but for our own major weapons systems. 

“And we made the decision to allow Chinese companies free rein to own, to buy, to make money in America, almost without restrictions, because we are capitalists. But they on the other hand restrict and ban our businesses from doing work in China because they are nationalists. 

“None of this is an accident. China has a plan. It is a plan to overtake America as the world’s leading economic, technological, geopolitical, diplomatic, and military power.  

“And I don’t say this to you based on some super secret intelligence document or an educated guess. They put it on paper! They’ve written this out, for everyone to see!  

“In 2015, the Chinese Communist Party laid out a plan called ‘Made in China 2025.’ And what it is basically is a plan to invest in and overtake us in ten of the industries that will define the 21st-century economy. Biomedicine, advanced technology, air and space, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, telecommunications, 5G, rail systems, ship-building. They intend to lead the world in all of these areas, and they are executing on a plan to carry that out.  

“And we have been complacent and distracted.  

“So while China channels every element of their national power — every element that you can imagine — to dominate these key industries and to do it at our expense, we assume that our position in the world will continue on its own, without having to do anything to maintain it.  

“While China is pursuing economic and technological dominance, we find ourselves here busy cancelling people, and demanding the use of the right pronouns to describe people, and claiming that requiring a photo ID to vote is the return to a Jim Crow era.

“We have placed ourselves on the road of decline and humiliation. Headed towards a world in which a totalitarian regime, one guilty right now as we speak of committing genocide against Uyghur Muslims, becomes the leading power on the planet, and relegating our country, America, to the status of a once great nation in decline.  

“We do not need to abandon capitalism and embrace socialism to take on this challenge. In fact, I believe socialism would only accelerate the damage our decisions are doing to our country.  

“We need capitalism. But it must be a capitalism geared towards promoting the national interest and the common good. Where the private market drives our economic decisions.  

“And in those instances where the market outcome is bad for our country — in those instances in which the market’s most efficient outcome is one that’s bad for our people, for our national security, for our national interest, bad for America — in those instances what we need is targeted industrial policy to further the common good and to protect our people, our country, and our future.   

“An industrial policy targeted not to every industry or the one that hires the right lobbyists. No. An industrial policy, like Operation Warp Speed, targeted to urgent national needs.  

“Policies like my Medical Manufacturing, Economic Development, and Sustainability Act, which would help bring back our ability to make medicines in this country again, including in places like Puerto Rico that need the economic growth and jobs.  

“Like the CHIPS Act we passed last year to make sure we never have to depend on China or any other country for that matter for semiconductors.    

“In 2019, well before the pandemic, I proposed modernizing the Small Business Administration and aligning its programs to the national interest. 

“Like my American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, which would incentivize private investment in small American manufacturers through the SBA.  

“And even as we make these sorts of targeted, industrial policy decisions, we need to make sure that we are protecting them from being stolen from us. 

“One of the changes we need to make in the China bill that’s now before the Senate is we need to have stronger protections against the research that we are funding from being stolen. 

“First, more of this money should be invested through agencies like DARPA, as an example, which has very good safeguards in place.   

“Second, we should prohibit any entity from receiving the funds called for in this bill if they have received China-based financial or in-kind support, or if they have otherwise failed to disclose foreign funding in the past ten years.  

“Third, we should require certification that a potential recipient of the funding has sufficient protections in place to guard against IP theft and other threats from foreign governments before they get any of the money. It’d be something if we appropriated all this money for industrial policy, if we invest it, and then we see it stolen.  

“Fourth, we should prohibit federal employees and contractors from participating in any foreign government talent recruitment program, and we should require federal contractors to disclose any commercial ties they might have to the Communist Party of China. 

“And fifth, we should establish a system of outbound investment screening. Even if we are successful in preventing adversarial actors from acquiring federal research dollars or intellectual property developed by it, there is nothing to stop nationless corporations from simply buying the IP and using it to develop capacities to benefit China and hurt our interests.   

“This is an important moment. I think one that will define the remainder of the century.

“When a book about the 21st century is written, it’ll have a few chapters about a lot of different things. But that book’s going to be about the relationship between China and the United States and what happened. And ‘what happened’ is in very many ways being decided right now.

 “We must ensure that our public policies are aligned to the urgent challenges of our time. 

“Our job here is to promote the common good and to defend the national interest. And by and large, that is a free enterprise capitalist economy that will produce the innovation, the investment, all of the things necessary to make that possible. 

“But in those instances in which a national need is urgent, in which the outcome of the market, that the market has delivered, is harming our country and its long-term future, we have an obligation to act in the common good.  

“And we should not allow orthodoxy or policies that made a lot of sense in the 1980s, in a very different world from today, to stand in the way of the sorts of targeted, government-private partnerships needed — the kind of partnerships that gave us a vaccine that is bringing us back to normal, the kind of partnership that will allow us to tackle the challenges we face now — so that the 21st century will also be an American century.  

“And that our leadership in these key industries that will define the century is neither endangered nor lost.”