Senate advances measure barring taxpayer funds for China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology

Amendment added by GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa to the Endless Frontier Act, which seeks to counter China

The Senate on Tuesday advanced bipartisan legislation that would ban federal funding for state-run labs in China, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

In a bipartisan voice vote, the Senate approved an amendment introduced by Iowa Republican Joni Ernst to be included in the Endless Frontier Act, which seeks to counter Chinese economic and geopolitical ambitions.

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"After COVID appeared in the vicinity of the Wuhan Institute, instead of cooperating…to discover the source of the outbreak, Chinese officials instead ordered the destruction of some of the coronavirus samples and blocked access to the lab," Ernst said on the Senate floor, adding that China continues to block international access to study the origins of the virus.

"My amendment would ensure not another dime of taxpayer dollars goes, spent subsidizing communist China," she added. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is leading the effort to pass the Endless Frontier Act on a bipartisan basis and bolster the U.S. ability to compete with China.

Though the bill has support across the aisle, lawmakers will first need to work through a litany of amendments.

Ernst’s amendment was not the only one to be added to the legislation Tuesday. 

GOP Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and David Daines of Montana successfully added their own amendments by voice vote to toughen up the anti-China bill. 

"We will finish it this week," Schumer told reporters Tuesday. "We’ve been so bipartisan. I haven’t seen anything like it in all the years that McConnell was leader, where we have been so open to the process. Today, we just offered them four more Republican amendments."

But amendments to the legislation continue to pour in.

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Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio announced that he introduced 22 amendments Tuesday targeting countermeasures to China’s technology sector and safeguarding U.S. health policies. 

Not all Republicans agree that bolstering the $130 billion bill is the best way to counter China.

Louisiana Republican John Kennedy took to Twitter to voice his frustration over how much the bill is expected to cost as amendments continue to be added. 

"Based on conversations with the Budget Committee, the cost of Sen. Schumer’s Endless Frontier Act is now up to $250 billion," he said on Twitter Thursday. "That’s $250,000,000,000.   At some point, we’re going to run out of digits."

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Schumer urged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to help him push the bill across the finish line with significant bipartisan support. 

"Literally, dozens of bipartisan amendments were added to the bill before it ever reached the floor," Schumer said Tuesday. "Here on the floor, we are going to continue working through a series of amendments from both sides with such a depth of cooperation and consensus between our two parties, there is no reason we can't wrap up this bill this week and achieve a strong result for our country."