Voices: After the Inflation Reduction Act saga, Kyrsten Sinema is unpopular as ever

·3 min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Moments after Senate Democrats passed their signature Inflation Reduction Act – a bill that tackles climate change, offers subsidies for Obamacare and allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke effusively about West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.

“Senator Manchin was talking about inflation long before everybody else and the world caught up with him,” said Schumer. He added that his Manchin’s focus enthusiasm about diverse sources of energy also received broader acceptance after the war in Ukraine caused gas prices to spike.

Schumer’s words struck a sunny new tone after a year of torrid negotiations. His words for Manchin were certainly much kinder than the words he used to describe the other conservative Democrat in his caucus: Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, whom he blamed for a “real bump in the road.”

That was a surprisingly candid statement, especially coming right after a stunning legislative victory more than a year in the making. Throughout the weekend vote-a-rama that ultimately saw the act passed, Republicans offered a flurry of amendments to try and make Democrats break rank, a strategy that mostly failed – unsurprisingly, given that most Democrats had already said they would oppose any amendments to the legislation so as to avoid ripping the fragile deal apart.

This meant that when Democrats spurned Bernie Sanders’s multiple amendments to tide over Manchin and Sinema, they were also committed to vote against an amendment to expand Medicaid brought by freshman Senator Raphael Warnock.

Things ran smoothly until, late in the process, Senate Minority Whip John Thune proposed an amendment that would exempt some private equity subsidiaries from paying a corporate minimum tax. That exemption would have been paid for by extending a cap on state and local tax deductions put in place by the Trump tax cuts.

Sinema is known to be friendly toward the private equity industry; had she backed the amendment, she could have effectively doomed the bill even if it passed the Senate, given that House Democrats from New York and New Jersey oppose the cap.

That sent the Senate into a last-minute scramble. Your reporter noticed that Schumer began to huddle with Warnock, as well as Senators Jon Ossoff, Amy Klobuchar, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren – who formulated the tax in the first place – to hatch a plan. All the while, Sinema barely spoke with her colleagues, apparently scrolling through Twitter on her phone.

In the end, Democrats hatched a plan to let Thune’s amendment pass before Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, a moderate Democrat who made a fortune in telecoms, proposed a substitute amendment without extending the cap.

Shortly after the vote, it looked like all had been forgiven, with Sinema and her Democratic colleagues exchanging hugs – but Schumer’s words show that there are definitely hurt feelings.

Throughout the fracas, Representative Ruben Gallego — who is currently weighing up whether to challenge Sinema — lambasted her on Twitter, saying that “saving money for Arizonans is not her focus.” But liberals weren’t the only ones roasting Sinema for her behavior.

Larry Summers, the former Clinton administration Treasury Secretary and Obama administration economic adviser who is often seen as friendly to Wall Street, tweeted: “There is no legitimate public policy argument” for keeping the carried interest tax loophole Sinema fought to preserve or for the “private equity carve-out” either. “It makes me despair of the general interest above the special interest” that she and Thune supported, he wrote.

Sinema ultimately got what she wanted in the legislation – CNBC reported that the private equity industry aggressively lobbied her – but it appears that she has breached her trust with Democrats, and thus only opened herself further to a primary challenge in 2024.

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