Kyrsten Sinema lingers as a big question mark on the Biden agenda as Senate Democrats dash toward a key vote within days
- Senate Democrats are scrambling to pass Manchin's big bill but don't know if Sinema supports it.
- Schumer set up a key vote for Saturday while Manchin and Sinema try to iron out their differences.
Senate Democrats are about to take one of their biggest gambles yet on President Joe Biden's domestic agenda.
Senate Majority Chuck Schumer teed up the first procedural vote sometime Saturday afternoon for the $740 billion climate, energy, and tax bill. It would set the stage Sunday for what is known as a "vote-a-rama," a session where lawmakers in both parties can offer as many amendments that they can physically endure in a single session.
Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, a Democrat locked in a competitive midterm race, intends to offer an amendment that would expand private health coverage to Americans living in states that refused to expand Medicaid, Insider's Kimberly Leonard reported.
But one Senate Democrat lingers as a large question mark: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. The centrist Democrat hasn't publicly commented on the package that Manchin negotiated in secret with Schumer and unveiled only a week ago, catching nearly everyone in Congress by surprise.
Without Sinema's vote, Senate Democrats can't clear the package through unanimous GOP resistance in the budget reconciliation process, which only requires a simple majority vote in the upper chamber.
The package would extend assistance for people to purchase health insurance through the Affordable Care Act for three years. It also includes $370 billion for clean energy programs and sets aside $300 billion to reduce the federal deficit. It also would allow Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs, a popular Democratic priority.
But Sinema isn't onboard and is reportedly pursuing two key changes to the legislation. Sinema wants to eject a measure narrowing the carried interest loophole which largely benefits rich investors and hedge fund managers. She's also seeking to add $5 billion for drought resiliency.
The backdrop is growing more hectic in the Capitol. Republicans and Democrats are still battling it out over what can be included in the "Byrd Bath," part of reconciliation in which a top Senate official determines which provisions in the bill satisfy strict budgetary rules and can be passed through the process.
"I believe we've got work to do on the procedural front," Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon told Insider. "But I think it's going well and we're starting to see the end in sight."
Sinema has also appeared to keep many of her colleagues in the dark. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who authored the 15% corporate minimum tax with Sinema last fall, said they haven't spoken with each other.
After sinking Biden's economic twice in the span of six months, Manchin has flipped to become the lead salesperson for the legislation. He and Sinema were seen having a 15 minute conversation on the Senate floor on Thursday afternoon. The West Virginia Democrat appeared lively at times, and was seated next to Sinema on the GOP side of the chamber. When Manchin departed the Capitol for the day, he declined to elaborate on his talk to reporters.
Republicans are lambasting the legislation as a major tax hike on Americans.
Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota says he believes Republicans should drag out the proceedings by making Senate clerks read aloud all 725 pages of the bill on the floor. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin last employed the tactic in March 2021, delaying passage of Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus law by 11 hours.
"We have to fight with everything we have," Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said in an interview. "I'll make the haul longer if that's what it takes. The notion that we're going to increase taxes and increase spending during a recession and inflationary time is so absurd."
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