Dems swallow bitter pill for Sinema’s vote on bill
Senator from Ariz. dismays many with choice of priorities
WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia sealed the deal reviving President Joe Biden’s big economic, health care and climate bill. But it was another Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who intently, quietly and deliberately shaped the final product.
Democrats pushed ahead Friday on an estimated $730 billion package that in many ways reflects Sinema’s priorities and handiwork more than the other political figures who have played a key role in delivering on Biden’s signature domestic policy agenda.
It was Sinema early on who rejected Biden’s plan to raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, as she broke with the party’s primary goal of reversing the Trump-era tax break Republicans gave to corporate America.
Sinema also scaled back her party’s long-running plan to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies as a way to reduce overall costs to the government and consumers. She limited which drugs can be negotiated.
Her insistence on climate change provisions forced the coal-state Manchin to stay at the table to accept some $369 billion in renewable energy investments and tax breaks. She also is tucking in more money to fight Western droughts.
And it was Sinema who in one stroke gave her blessing to the deal by extracting an ultimate demand — she forced Democrats to drop plans to close a tax loophole that benefits wealthy hedge fund managers and highincome earners, long a party priority. Instead, the final bill will keep the tax rate at 20% instead of hiking it to the typical 37%.
“Kyrsten Sinema’s proven herself to be a very effective legislator,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who has negotiated extensively with her over the past year, including on the tax loophole.
In a 50-50 Senate where every vote matters, the often inscrutable and politically undefinable Sinema puts hers to use in powerful ways. Her negotiating at the highest levels of power — she appears to have equal access to Biden, Senate Majority
Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and even Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — has infuriated some, wowed others and left no doubt she is a powerful political figure.
While other lawmakers bristle at the influence a single senator can wield in Congress, where each member represents thousands if not millions of voters, Sinema’s nod of approval late Thursday was the last hurdle Democrats needed to push the Inflation Reduction Act forward. A final round of votes is expected this weekend.
“We had no choice,” Schumer told reporters Friday at the Capitol.
Getting what you want in Congress does not come without political costs, and Sinema is amassing a balance due.
Progressives are outraged at her behavior, which they view as verging on an unsettling restacking of party priorities to a more centrist, if not conservative, lane.
Progressive Rep. Ruben Gallego is openly musing about challenging Sinema in the 2024 primary in Arizona, and an independent expenditure group, Change for Arizona 2024, says it will support grassroots organizations committed
to defeating her.
“The new reconciliation bill will lower the cost of prescription drugs,” Gallego wrote on Twitter last weekend. “@SenatorSinema is holding it up to try to protect ultra rich hedge fund managers so they can pay a lower tax.”
In fact, on the left and the right, commentators lambasted her final act — saving the tax breaks for the wealthy. Some pointed to past legislative luminaries — the late Sen. Robert Byrd, for example, used his clout to leave his name on
roads, buildings and civic institutions across the West Virginia hillsides. They scoff at Sinema establishing her legacy in such a way.
“Astonishing,” wrote conservative Hugh Hewitt on Twitter. “@SenatorSinema could have demanded anything she wanted — anything that spent money or changed taxes — and with that leverage for Arizona she choose to protect the carry interest exemption for investors . ... Not the border. Not the country. A tax break. Wow.”
Former Clinton-era Labor
Secretary Robert Reich wrote, “The ‘carried interest’ loophole for billionaire hedge-fund and private-equity partners is now out of the Inflation Reduction Act, courtesy of Kyrsten Sinema.
“She’s up in 2024. Primary her and get her out of the Senate.”
In the end, the final package is slimmer than Biden first envisioned with his lofty Build Back Better initiative, but still a monumental undertaking and a bookend to a surprisingly productive if messy legislative session.