Jul 30, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Sinema indicates she may want to change Schumer-Manchin deal

Photo illustration of Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema looking at each other with the earth in the background
Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Stefani Reynolds-Pool, Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) had a message for her Democratic colleagues before she flew home to Arizona for the weekend: She's preserving her options.

Why it matters: Sinema has leverage and she knows it. Any potential modification to the Democrat's climate and deficit reduction package — like knocking out the $14 billion provision on carried interest — could cause the fragile deal to collapse.

  • Her posture is causing something between angst and fear in the Democratic caucus as senators wait for her to render a verdict on the secret deal announced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin last Thursday.

Driving the news: Sinema has given no assurances to colleagues that she’ll vote along party lines in the so-called “vote-a-rama” for the $740 billion bill next week, according to people familiar with the matter.

  • The vote-a-rama process allows lawmakers to offer an unlimited number of amendments, as long as they are ruled germane by the Senate parliamentarian. Senators — and reporters — expect a late night.
  • Republicans, steaming mad that Democrats have a chance to send a $280 billion China competition package and a massive climate and health care bill to President Biden, will use the vote-a-rama to force vulnerable Democrats to take politically difficult votes.
  • They'll also attempt to kill the reconciliation package with poison pills — amendments that make it impossible for Schumer to find 50 votes for final passage.

The intrigue: Not only is Sinema indicating that she's open to letting Republicans modify the bill, she has given no guarantees she’ll support a final “wrap-around” amendment, which would restore the original Schumer-Manchin deal.

The big picture: Schumer made a calculated decision to negotiate a package with Manchin in secrecy. He assumed that all of his other members, including Sinema, would fall into line and support the deal.

  • Now his caucus is digesting the specifics, with Sinema taking a printout of the 725-page bill back to Arizona on Friday for some dense in-flight reading.
  • Schumer will find out this week if his gamble in keeping Sinema in the dark will pay off.

What we're watching: While Sinema supported the 15% minimum book tax back in December, which would raise more than $300 billion, Schumer never bothered to check if her position changed, given the darkening economic outlook.

  • Schumer and Manchin also inserted the language on taxing carried interest as regular income, which would raise approximately $14 billion, knowing full well that Sinema never agreed to it. That move blindsided Sinema.

The intrigue: While Schumer and Manchin have a well-documented and tumultuous relationship — replete with private fence-mending Italian dinners — Schumer and Sinema do not regularly engage.

Flashback: The Schumer-Sinema relationship took a big blow back in February when Schumer declined to endorse Sinema for her 2024 re-election when directly asked by CNN.

  • She didn't attend her party's caucus meeting on Thursday.

Between the lines: Sinema and Manchin always agreed that President Biden’s initial $3.5 trillion Build Back Better plan needed to be trimmed down.

  • They are also on the same page on the need to act on climate change.
  • If Manchin has been primarily concerned with inflation, her guiding principles have always been economic growth and new jobs in Arizona.

The bottom line: Sinema isn't terribly pleased with how Schumer has foisted this package upon her. She reserves the right to modify it.

  • But she also knows that a progressive challenger, like Rep. Ruben Gallego, is all but guaranteed in 2024 if she's held responsible for killing the Democrats best shot at a climate bill in years.

Editor's note: This version corrects the date of the caucus meeting and the size of Biden's original Build Back Better plan.

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