WASHINGTON—Legislation with bipartisan support in Congress would expand the role of the National Science Foundation and provide up to $200 billion in tech and related research funding to meet what backers say is a growing threat from China.

The centerpiece of the package is a bill that would rename the federal government’s science agency as the National Science and Technology Foundation, and authorize it to spend $100 billion over five years for research into artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, high-performance computing and other advanced technologies.

An additional $10 billion would be authorized for the Commerce Department to designate at least 10 regional technology hubs for research, development and manufacturing of key technologies.

Additional funding would likely be made available for domestic semiconductor manufacturing and other tech-related supply-chain proposals.

The Endless Frontier Act got a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday, drawing support from Republicans and Democrats.

“There is an R&D here but it’s not the Republican and Democrat,” said Sen.

Maria Cantwell
(D., Wash.) the committee’s chair. “Research and development is really a bipartisan issue.”

‘Research and development is really a bipartisan issue,’ said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.), who appeared at a news conference Tuesday.

‘Research and development is really a bipartisan issue,’ said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.), who appeared at a news conference Tuesday.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Still, partisan and regional concerns are likely to emerge, including over the package’s size.

Senate Majority Leader

Chuck Schumer
(D., N.Y.), who is pushing the effort, also wants to include additional measures to boost funding for semiconductor manufacturing as well as shoring up domestic supply chains for manufacturing and other initiatives, people familiar with the matter said.

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Those initiatives could add tens of billions of dollars to the package’s price tag, with some of that money potentially being funded as part of President

Biden’s
$2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.

Some Republicans have expressed skepticism over the breadth of Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan, which proposes spending $300 billion for domestic manufacturing and $180 billion for research and development and $50 billion for U.S. semiconductor manufacturing, among other things.

Lawmakers in both parties also expressed concern about veering too far from market-centered decision making and establishing industrial policy.

“We will not beat China by copying its strategy,” said Sen.

Roger Wicker
(R., Miss.), the top Republican on the panel. Strategic government investments “are important, but we will not win by simply throwing money at the problem.”

Sen. Cantwell also vowed to “bring us back” if the proposal veers away from market-based approaches to investment.

Some conservative activists also are concerned over the expansion of Washington’s role in fixing problems in supply chains for products such as semiconductors.

“I can applaud their concerns over China but I have a lot of misgivings over the details,” said

Douglas Holtz-Eakin,
president of the American Action Forum, a center-right nonprofit. “No one has a greater incentive to fix supply chains than private firms.” He also questioned focusing exclusively on relocating supply chains in the U.S.

An electronics exposition last month in China, which one lawmaker said is becoming a self-reliant technology power.

An electronics exposition last month in China, which one lawmaker said is becoming a self-reliant technology power.

Photo: aly song/Reuters

Despite those reservations, the package could become a bipartisan vehicle for building support for some of the big initiatives proposed by Mr. Biden as part of his $2.3 trillion infrastructure package.

Supporting U.S. competitiveness against China has emerged as an increasingly popular cause among both Democrats and Republicans, whereas the infrastructure package has drawn more GOP concern.

“China in particular is becoming a self-reliant technology power threatening America’s global dominance,” Mr. Wicker said.

The hearing featured testimony from academics at several universities, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Notre Dame and Mississippi State University, who focused on how to make more efficient use of federal research dollars.

Mr. Schumer, who has emerged as an important hawk on China and U.S. competitiveness, is aiming to bring the package to the Senate floor for a vote as soon as the last week in April, potentially putting it on a fast track for approval.