Not for the first time, all eyes in Washington are on Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
With the Arizona Democrat emerging as the key vote on the $739 billion Inflation Reduction Act hammered out last week by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sinema is being courted by members of both parties in an all-out effort to either pass or scuttle the expansive legislation before the Senate breaks for its recess next week.
Democrats want to force the measure through the 50-50 chamber via reconciliation — a procedural ploy that will permit them to bypass the 60-vote threshold needed to approve most legislation.
With Manchin — who blocked President Biden’s Build Back Better Act in December, on board and no Republicans likely to back the deal — Democrats desperately need Sinema to become the 50th vote and allow Vice President Kamala Harris to be the tie-breaker.
Video of Sinema huddling with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on the floor Tuesday went viral and gave Democrats a severe case of agita.
“We’re in touch with Senator Sinema, we’re in touch with all of the members, and we’re hopeful, I’m very hopeful, we’re all going to stay united and pass this bill,” Schumer said on Tuesday.
Republicans had the opposite response.
“I always have faith in her. I don’t know how it will come out,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND). “I have great faith she’s going to do what she feels is right. She’s more convicted than she is transactional.”
Sinema has yet to comment publicly on the bill, with her office saying she is waiting until Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough determines whether the spending package is eligible to pass through reconciliation.
“She’s reviewing the text and will need to see what comes out of the parliamentarian process,” spokeswoman Hannah Hurley told Bloomberg News on Wednesday.
While Sinema could kill the legislation with a simple thumbs-down, she could also use her leverage to force changes.
Republicans are focusing on persuading her to water down or force the removal of a 15% tax on corporations that report more than $1 billion of profit to shareholders, as well as a levy on profits earned by hedge fund, venture capital or private equity honchos known as carried interest — a tax which has been opposed by Sinema in the past.
Manchin and Schumer have said those taxes would raise approximately $327 billion to fund environmental and energy projects.
In response, the Senate GOP has pointed to a Joint Committee on Taxation report from last week that indicated the Inflation Reduction Act would raise taxes on Americans earning less than $400,000 a year.
“Americans are already experiencing the consequences of Democrats’ reckless economic policies. The mislabeled ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ will do nothing to bring the economy out of stagnation and recession, but it will raise billions of dollars in taxes on Americans making less than $400,000,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, who asked for the analysis.
Manchin, who has called claims that the package will lead to middle-class tax increases an “outright lie,” said he’s been “exchanging texts back and forth” with Sinema.
She’s “extremely bright, she works hard, she makes good decisions based on facts. I’m reliant on that,” he said, adding that he and Schumer are working to get all 50 members of their caucus on board.
“We’re just basically exchanging back and forth, whatever I have that she hasn’t seen,” Manchin said of Sinema, “And our staffs are working together very closely.”
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