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Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is negotiating the size and scope of President Biden’s $3.5 trillion budget plan armed with her own spreadsheets about the costs and tax hikes needed for each program, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: While Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is getting attention for balking at a $3.5 trillion top-line price tag, Sinema's accountant-like focus on the bottom line will be equally important to winning the votes of them and other key Democrats.

  • Sinema’s intense interest in the numbers also suggests she’ll be a formidable foil for progressives — like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — who are working to make the spending bill as big as possible.
  • “As she has said publicly, Sen. Sinema will continue working in good faith with her colleagues and President Biden as this legislation develops — and will be closely reviewing what the committees propose," said John LaBombard, Sinema’s communications director.

The big picture: Despite the focus on Manchin, party leaders and the White House are aware of Sinema's potential concerns.

  • As early as July, she was clear the $3.5 trillion price tag was too high for her.
  • The lack of clarity about how long each program will last has frustrated both senators and outside budget groups.
  • The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has tried to bring uniformity to the process and ended up pricing the reconciliation package at $5.5 trillion.

Between the lines: Sinema and Manchin aren’t necessarily on the same page on which programs — and which tax increases — they can stomach.

  • Crafting a deal to address Manchin’s concerns doesn’t ensure Sinema also will be happy.

Behind the scenes: Sinema refers to her spreadsheets as she strategizes with colleagues about next steps in the budget process.

  • As House and Senate committees begin to write specific legislation, she’s updating her data to ensure she has accurate top- and bottom-line figures.

The bottom line: By internalizing the numbers, Sinema is prepared to challenge parts of Biden's overall $3.5 trillion package.

  • She’s also putting herself in a position to cut deals, as she did when she helped broker the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.
  • It received 69 votes, including 19 Republicans, in the Senate last month.

Go deeper

Pelosi's back-to-school math problem

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) may need votes from an unlikely source — the Republican Party — if she hopes to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill by next Monday, as she's promised Democratic centrists.

Why it matters: With at least 20 progressives threatening to vote against the $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill, centrist members are banking on more than 10 Republicans to approve the bill.

12 hours ago - Health

Democrats' case for prioritizing health care policies

Expand chart
Reproduced from Hart Research Associates; Chart: Axios Visuals

Health care advocates are making the case that the pieces of Democrats' legislative agenda that lower health care costs and expand coverage are the most popular with voters — and should thus be prioritized.

Why it matters: Democrats are trying to figure out what topline spending number they have to work with for their reconciliation package. The lower that number goes, the more the party will have to cut from the package.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
1 hour ago - Energy & Environment

China vows end to building coal-fired power plants abroad

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Mary Altaffer - Pool/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping told the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday that his country "will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad" and plans to boost support for clean energy in developing nations.

Why it matters: The pledge, if maintained, would mark a breakthrough in efforts to transition global power away from the most carbon-emitting fuel.