Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) has once again thrown a major wrench into Democrats’ plans, this time announcing her opposition to the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that her party was planning to pass to widen the safety net for struggling Americans as the nation battles the pandemic.
Sinema told the Arizona Republic on Wednesday that “I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion — and in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation.” Her statement seems to ignore the fact that Democrats and Democratic leadership have largely united in support of the bill and have emphasized many times over recent weeks that they plan to pass the bill before the Senate goes into recess in August.
Senate Democrats need all 50 caucus members to vote for the bill to pass it via budget reconciliation, which requires a simple majority vote to pass legislation. The reconciliation bill contains long-vaunted goals like expanding Medicare to include vision and dental coverage, provisions to combat the climate crisis, proposals to help strengthen unions and the working class, and a tax hike on corporations and the wealthy.
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The senator also said in the statement that she will support beginning the reconciliation process, meaning that Democrats could still move both bills together. But her opposition to the price tag is highly likely to complicate matters, as Democrats have indicated that they are all-or-nothing on the reconciliation bill. The $3.5 trillion figure that she evidently thinks is too high is already a compromise for progressive members of Congress, who wanted something closer to $6 trillion.
Democrats are opposed to the bipartisan infrastructure plan on its own. House Transportation Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) called it “crap” in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, criticizing the White House and Sinema, who he referred to as a Republican.
Some progressives have already expressed opposition to voting for the infrastructure bill if the reconciliation bill is whittled down. “Without a reconciliation package that meets this moment, I’m a no on this bipartisan [infrastructure] deal,” wrote Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-New York).
Sinema’s opposition also throws into question the plan to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill that she helped negotiate. Democrats have insisted that they won’t pass the infrastructure bill unless the reconciliation package passes alongside it. This means that Sinema may have just sunk — or, at the very least, delayed — both bills.
The Arizona senator’s announcement frustrated progressives and Democrats alike, many of whom have been hinging their hopes to pass vital legislation through the reconciliation bill. Sinema has gained a reputation among progressives for blocking Democratic goals with her staunch support of the filibuster and opposition to crucial proposals like the $15 federal minimum wage.
“Time for the White House to play hardball. We didn’t elect Sinema as President and we won’t let her obstruction put a Republican in the Oval Office in 2024. It’s the reconciliation bill or GOP controlling every level of government again, period,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) on Twitter.
“Good luck tanking your own party’s investment on childcare, climate action, and infrastructure while presuming you’ll survive a 3 vote House margin – especially after choosing to exclude members of color from negotiations and calling that a “bipartisan accomplishment,’” wrote Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), referring to the fact that the bipartisan group of centrists negotiating the infrastructure bill are all white.
Sinema’s announcement is also likely to draw ire from her constituents. Recent polls have found that Sinema’s favorability is tanking among Arizona Democrats, setting her up for a potential primary challenge. But she’s not up for re-election until 2024, leaving plenty of time for obstruction — or perhaps reformation and a return to form.
Sinema seems not to care that her own state is flooding, the west is burning, and infrastructure around the country is crumbling. Sinema is more interested in gaining GOP friends and blocking much needed resources, than fighting for her residents’ future. https://t.co/TfSc0uoY1j pic.twitter.com/nTFC2lizfK
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) July 28, 2021
The Arizona senator’s announcement comes as the bipartisan group of senators, of which Sinema is a member, announced Wednesday that they have finalized negotiations on the infrastructure bill. The bill, which is smaller than the previous draft, could advance to debate on the Senate floor as soon as Wednesday, though Sinema’s announcement calls that into question.
The bill includes $550 billion in new spending, $29 billion smaller than the previous draft of the bill and about $1.7 trillion less than President Joe Biden’s original proposal of $2.25 trillion. The final text of the agreement has yet to be released, but it includes spending for improving the country’s roads, highways, bridges, rails and internet infrastructure.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has said that the bill could come to a second cloture vote as early as Wednesday night. The first vote to advance the bill last week failed, with Republicans uniting against it.
But it’s unclear whether or not the bill has enough Republican votes to pass. Politico reports that the bill appears to only have six confirmed GOP votes as of Wednesday afternoon, and the legislation needs 10 Republicans and all Democrats on board to advance to debate on the floor. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said he believes the bill has the votes, but it remains to be seen if the vote pans out that way.
After Sinema’s statement, it’s also unclear if the bill will have enough Democrats to pass as well. Schumer was planning to advance both bills soon, and though Sinema may vote to begin the process, her opposition means that the reconciliation bill would not be any closer to passing. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has emphasized that she won’t bring the infrastructure bill to a vote until the reconciliation bill has passed the Senate.
Aside from Sinema and the Democrats, there are few practical reasons for Republicans to block the bill. After chipping away at the bill for months, they have arguably won more in the negotiations than the Democrats have. They have not only gotten the infrastructure spending chipped down to nearly a quarter of its original value, but they — alongside centrist Democrats — have gotten Biden’s American Families Plan thrown out of bipartisan consideration entirely.
Democrats and progressives have said in recent weeks that Republicans may have been angling, through the months of negotiations, to simply delay the bill. In the process, then, they could water it down and politicize the issue, only to pull their support for it at the last minute.