Democrats say they 'have no sense' of what Kyrsten Sinema wants in Biden's safety-net package as she opposes tax hikes

Democrats say they 'have no sense' of what Kyrsten Sinema wants in Biden's safety-net package as she opposes tax hikes
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
  • Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is frustrating congressional Democrats as social-spending talks stall.
  • Two Senate Democratic aides told Insider she's opposed to income-tax increases.

It's not just Bernie Sanders. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is vexing many of her Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill.

The Arizona Democrat is off fundraising in Europe, The New York Times reported, as negotiations on Democrats' social-spending bill stall out with few signs that Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia will resolve their differences over the large amounts of proposed climate, education, and healthcare spending.

The centrist pair are sparking frustration among rank-and-file Democrats, who want to quickly wrap up talks and muscle the spending plan through the process known as reconciliation. That allows the party to approve it with a simple majority and bypass unified GOP opposition. Democrats need both Manchin's and Sinema's votes for the plan to clear the Senate. But it's been at least somewhat more clear what Manchin wants than what Sinema wants.

Manchin says he wants to contain the bill's price tag to $1.5 trillion and restrain the eligibility for new benefit programs like the child tax credit to low-income Americans. But Sinema doesn't speak with reporters on Capitol Hill and has negotiated only with the White House.

Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the chair of the House Budget Committee, told reporters on Tuesday, "I have no sense of what Sinema wants."


"I can't put myself in her head," the retiring Kentucky Democrat said. "And don't want to."

A major holdup in the talks is Sinema's opposition to any tax increases for individuals and large corporations, per two Senate Democratic aides familiar with the matter. Her position threatens to deprive the package of over $700 billion in revenue to finance the bulk of President Joe Biden's agenda. Biden has repeatedly promised his plan will be paid for and won't add to the federal deficit. Most Democrats are also fervent in their desire to roll back President Donald Trump's 2017 tax cuts.

"I do not think anyone in the caucus believes that to be a tenable position," one of the aides told Insider. The New York Times first reported Sinema's position. Her office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.

"So far this week, Senator Sinema has held several calls - including with President Biden, the White House team, Senator Schumer's team, and other Senate and House colleagues - to continue discussions on the proposed budget reconciliation package," a Sinema representative told Politico.

Biden expressed a flash of frustration with Manchin and Sinema last week during a press conference. "I was able to close the deal with 99% of my party," Biden said as he held up two fingers. "Two. Two people."


Progressives recently assailed Sinema and Manchin for not being clear in laying out their priorities. Sanders said on a press call Tuesday that "the time is now long overdue" for both senators to tell Democrats which priorities they'd be willing to eject from the spending bill.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chair of the 96-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters that progressives were open to cutting the price tag but not the overall scope of the package, favoring packing as many priorities into the legislation as possible, with shorter expiration dates.

"We're not going to pit childcare against climate change," she said. "We're not going to pit seniors against young people."

Whether Sinema ends up budging or digging in on her views means the difference between a hefty bill that transforms the economy or a skinnier one that changes it only around the edges. If she's serious about no tax increases, then the bill could be even smaller than anyone is talking about.