Bernie and Elise, together against CHIPS

MALTA — Bernie Sanders and Elise Stefanik don’t agree on much, but they both voted against CHIPS.

What’s CHIPS? That would be the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America Act, which promises to boost an already profitable industry with $53 billion in grants, plus new tax breaks and other bennies that balloon the bill’s total cost to a whopping $280 billion. Helpful, indeed.

The stated point of the legislation, which passed in the House and Senate and as of this writing awaits Joe Biden’s expected signature, is to boost an important industry’s domestic production in the face of Chinese competition. The bill will add to the federal deficit, of course, but its proponents say that’s fine because the giveaway is vital for national security.

Whether that’s true or not, the bill promises to boost the economy in these parts.

In fact, GlobalFoundries has said the money will lead it to build another chip factory in Saratoga County, where it already employs 3,000 people. It may also help the economy in Vermont, home to a GlobalFoundries factory near Burlington.

That makes the votes from Sanders, who is of course from Vermont, and Stefanik, whose town of Saratoga home is a Wiffle ball’s throw from GlobalFoundries, all the more remarkable. Politicians love to bring home the bacon, but in this case Sanders and Stefanik might as well be vegan.

What gives?

Sanders, for one, has been outspoken in opposing what he calls corporate welfare for an industry that is already massively profitable. As he asked on the Senate floor: “Should American taxpayers provide the micro-chip industry with a blank check of over $76 billion at a time when semiconductor companies are making tens of billions of dollars in profits and paying their executives exorbitant compensation packages?”

Heck no, Bernie says. And I tend to agree with him, in part because I’ve been convinced by critics who say the legislation isn’t really needed to better compete with China.

Plus, it is almost always dangerous when the government starts handing checks to private corporations — also campaign donors, typically — and Sanders is right when he says it will only cause other industries to line up “like pigs at the trough.”

(Yes, lots of porcine analogies going on here.)

Sanders, 80, a self-described Democratic socialist who caucuses with Democrats, was the only senator on his side of the aisle to vote against a bill that passed with bipartisan support: 64 votes in the Senate and 243 in the House. Given his consistency in opposing corporate welfare — and, to be honest, corporations generally — it’s easy to credit him with taking a principled stand against the spending, despite the potential benefits to Vermont’s economy.

And Stefanik?

Well, her opposition hasn’t been quite so consistent. In fact, Stefanik, 38 and chair of the House Republican Conference, was an early sponsor of the legislation who, so far as anyone can tell, turned against it suddenly on Wednesday along with the rest of House GOP leadership.

And that reversal had as much to do with the newly announced climate-and-tax bill, as hammered out between our own Chuck Schumer and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, as it did with the bill promising “helpful incentives” for the semiconductor industry. The North Country congresswoman said as much in a statement sent on Friday.

“Democrats’ latest backdoor dealing is Washington at its worst, and the American people know that Schumer used CHIPS as a vehicle to raise taxes and pour fuel on the raging inflation fire with a tax-and-spend bill that will hurt hardworking families and small businesses,” she said, citing the bill’s skyrocketing costs and weakened guardrails as other reasons for her opposition.

Stefanik’s two potential Democrat opponents in the 21st Congressional District weren’t buying it. Matt Castelli, for example, said she is “trying to keep Americans in pain for her own political gain,” while Matt Putorti said “Stefanik is too busy kissing Donald Trump’s ass to look out for ours.”

(Actually, it wasn’t entirely clear whether Putorti was saying that in reference to CHIPS or if it was intended as a general condemnation. I figured some of you would enjoy it regardless.)

Of course, Stefanik and Sanders could both vote against the giveaway knowing it was likely to pass. They knew, then, that any anger generated by their opposition would be muted, since the money would flow to their constituents nevertheless. 

But it is interesting, this sudden Stefanik-Sanders consensus, this bridge of agreement over Lake Champlain. Perhaps it’s the beginning of a beautiful partnership, a new federal odd couple, the elder quasi-socialist walking hand-in-hand with the young Trump enthusiast from a neighboring state, opposing corporate welfare and other bad schemes wherever they go.

Could such a thing be possible?

Sure. When pigs fly.

cchurchill@timesunion.com ■ 518-454-5442 ■ @chris_churchill

This column was updated after publication to reflect the total $280 billion cost of the CHIPS legislation.

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