Sinema gives her nod, and influence, to Democrats’ big bill

WASHINGTON (AP) – Sen. Joe Manchin sealed the deal to revive President Joe Biden’s major economic, health care and climate bill. But it was another Democratic Senator, Kyrsten Sinema from Arizonathat attentively, quietly and deliberately formed the final product.

Democrats pushed through on Friday on a package estimated at $730 billion that in many ways reflects Sinema’s priorities and handiwork more than the other political figures who have played a key role in delivering Biden’s signature domestic policy agenda.

It was early on Sinema 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 undoing the Trump-era tax break that Republicans gave the U.S. business gifts.

Sinema has also scaled back her party’s long-term plan to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices with the drug companies as a way to lower overall costs to government and consumers. She limited what drugs can be negotiated.

Her insistence on climate change regulations forced the coal state of Manchin to stay at the table to accept some $369 billion in renewable energy investments and tax breaks. She is also putting in more money to fight the western drought.

And it was Sinema who, in a final blow, gave her blessing to the deal by pulling out an ultimate demand – forcing Democrats to drop plans to close a fiscal loophole that wealthy hedge fund managers and high-income benefits have long been a party priority. Instead, the final bill will keep the tax rate at 20% instead of increasing it to the typical 37%.

“Kyrsten Sinema has proven to be a very effective lawmaker,” said Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., who spent the past year negotiating extensively with his colleague, including over the tax loophole.

In a 50-50 Senate where every vote matters, the often inscrutable and politically indefinable Sinema uses hers in powerful ways. Her top-level negotiations — she appears to have equal access to Biden, Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, and even Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell — has enraged some, surprised others, and there’s no doubt that she’s a powerful new political figure.

While other lawmakers resent 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 pass the Inflation Reduction Act. to help forward. A final round of grueling votes on the package is expected to begin this weekend.

“We had no choice,” Schumer told reporters at the Capitol on Friday.

Getting what you want in Congress doesn’t come without political costs, and Sinema collects a balance to be paid.

Progressives are outraged by her behavior, which they see as outside the norms of sausage-making in the legislative process and on the brink of a disturbing realignment of party priorities into a more centrist, if not conservative, path.

Progressive Representative Ruben Gallego openly muses on challenging Sinema in the 2024 Arizona primaries, and an independent spending group, Change for Arizona 2024, says it will support grassroots organizations committed to defeating her in a Democratic primary.

“The new reconciliation law will reduce the cost of prescription drugs,” Gallego wrote on Twitter last weekend. “@SenatorSinema is holding back from trying to protect ultra-wealthy hedge fund managers so they can pay lower taxes.”

Commentators left and right criticized her latest act: saving the tax breaks for the rich. Some pointed to past legislatures — the late Senator Robert Byrd, for example, used his power to leave his name on roads, buildings and public institutions in the hills of West Virginia. They scoff at Sinema who records her legacy in such a way.

“Amazing,” conservative Hugh Hewitt wrote on Twitter. “@SenatorSinema could have demanded anything she wanted – anything that spent money or changed taxes – and with that leverage for Arizona she chose… to protect the carry interest exemption for investors. … Not the border. Not the country. A tax benefit. Wow.”

Robert Reich, the former Clinton-era Democratic Labor Secretary, wrote: “The loophole for billionaire hedge funds and private equity partners is now out of the Inflation Reduction Act, courtesy of Kyrsten Sinema.

“She’s awake in 2024. Prefer her and get her out of the Senate.”

But Sinema has never cared much about what others say about her, from the moment she set foot in the Senate, broke the rules with her erratic fashion choices, and her willingness to reach down the aisle to the Republicans — sometimes literally with them. in the private Senate GOP cloakroom.

The Arizona senator tries to emulate John McCain’s maverick career, taking advantage of his farewell address before her maiden Senate speech, and tries to replicate his renegade style alongside hers — a comparison that has attracted some eyerolls because of the range and scope.

Still, in her short time in the Senate, Sinema has proven to be a serious investigator who understands the intricacies of legislation and a hard-working dealmaker who doesn’t back down. She has been instrumental in pioneering legislation, including the bipartisan infrastructure bill that Biden signed into law last summer.

“There hasn’t been a bipartisan group that she wasn’t a part of,” Warner said.

Ultimately, the final package is slimmer than Biden initially envisioned with his lofty Build Back Better initiative, but still a monumental undertaking and a bookend for a surprisingly productive, albeit messy, legislative session.

The bill would benefit health care for many Americans, limit pharmacy costs for seniors to $2,000 out of pocket and provide grants to help millions of people who purchase health insurance in the private market. It includes what the Biden administration calls the largest investment in climate change ever, with money for renewable energy and consumer discounts for new and used electric cars. It would largely be paid for by higher corporate taxes, with about $300 billion going toward deficit reduction.

As for the climate regulations, a priority for Democrats, Sinema may have played a role in enforcing the sweeping provisions in the bill, while Manchin was less inclined to do so.

Environmental leaders, who have been involved in discussions on the bill since last year, said Sinema has been instrumental in shaping the bill all along. She was particularly helpful last year when she made clear that she supports climate and energy supplies, and her commitment to climate issues has remained steadfast, environmentalists said.

She tackled her own priority, money to help western states deal with droughts, in the last step.

Jamal Raad, executive director of Evergreen Action, an environmental group that has pushed for the climate bill, said: “Senator Sinema needed money for drought relief to help her constituents avert the worst effects of climate change. If that’s what it took to get her support, then it’s good for her.”

Back home in Arizona, corporate allies crucial to Sinema’s efforts to build an independent image have applauded her willingness to resist the party’s pressures over the tax hikes.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the National Association of Manufacturers ran ads against the deal, though they didn’t target Sinema by name, and bowed its ear during a phone call this week.

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Associated Press writers Matthew Daly in Washington and JJ Cooper in Phoenix contributed to this article.

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