Politico’s playbook reports, Scoop: Sinema issues ultimatum to Biden:
MODS TO BIDEN: BIF NOW OR BUST — Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-Ariz.) delivered a tough message to President Joe Biden at a private meeting Wednesday, we’re told: If the House delays its scheduled Sept. 27 vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan — or if the vote fails — she won’t be backing a reconciliation bill.
JUST IN @SenatorSinema told President Biden at a private meeting Wednesday: If the House delays its scheduled Sept. 27 vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan — or if it fails — she won’t be backing a reconciliation bill, per @playbookdc
— Brahm Resnik (@brahmresnik) September 20, 2021
Sinema is not the only moderate taking this stand. Rep. KURT SCHRADER (D-Ore.) — one of approximately 10 moderate Democratic House members playing hardball with leadership — said he and several members of their group are on the same page. Some of the lawmakers have conveyed that message up the chain to leadership and the White House. A senior Democratic aide confirmed the warnings.
“If they delay the vote — or it goes down — then I think you can kiss reconciliation goodbye,” Schrader told Playbook. “Reconciliation would be dead.”
This is obviously big news if moderates follow through. The threat comes days after Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-Wash.) declared that House progressives had the votes to tank the infrastructure plan, aka BIF, unless it’s paired with the larger $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. But it’s become abundantly clear the reconciliation bill won’t be ready a week from today, the date when Speaker NANCY PELOSI promised moderates a vote on the $1.2 trillion bill to rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges.
The time crunch and threat from the left has led many to question whether the speaker will try to postpone the infrastructure vote. House Majority Whip JIM CLYBURN (D-S.C.) told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that a delay is possible.
But the mods’ new threat indicates that a delay would not end well.“That’d be foolish on their part,” Schrader told us, noting that Clyburn, Pelosi and House Majority Leader STENY HOYER were in the room when the promise was made to them to take up the infrastructure plan on Sept. 27. “That would indicate they’re not playing fair in the sandbox. … It would be a travesty if they try to play games.”
Asked about her exchange with Biden, Sinema’s office neither confirmed nor denied the account: “Kyrsten does not share details of private conversations with President Biden or her colleagues.” However, her office added: “She does look forward to House leadership making good on their commitment to an up-or-down vote on the historic and bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act next Monday — to create jobs and expand economic opportunities across the country.” (In another sign of trouble for Democrats, our Laura Barrón-López scooped Sunday night that Sinema has also told the White House she opposes the Democrats’ prescription drug plan — a critical source of funding for the reconciliation package. Schrader voted against it in committee last week.)
The White House has a new headache as it struggles to get its multitrillion-dollar party-line spending bill passed: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s objections to drug pricing reforms that are already struggling to make it through the House.
The Arizona Democrat is opposed to the current prescription drug pricing proposals in both the House and Senate bills, two sources familiar with her thinking said. They added that, at this point, she also doesn’t support a pared-back alternative being pitched by House Democratic centrists that would limit the drugs subject to Medicare negotiation.
Sinema met with President Joe Biden on Sept. 15 to discuss the social spending package, in which party leaders hope to include the Medicare prescription drug pricing proposal. Sinema has made her resistance to the current House prescription drug negotiation proposal clear to the White House, according to one of the sources, but it’s unclear if she’s completely immovable.
The White House similarly declined to comment. “We don’t discuss the president’s private conversations with senators,” said one senior administration official.
INSIDE THE MODS’ CALCULATION: Progressives think if they band together and threaten to kill the infrastructure bill, it will convince moderate members to go along with the larger reconciliation package. But multiple sources — including a senior Democratic aide and several in the centrist camp — tell us the left is misreading their colleagues.
The upshot: Some moderates privately have decided that no infrastructure bill is better than one that’s paired with $3.5 trillion in spending.
SO LET’S PLAY THIS OUT: If the vote happens Sept. 27, it’s going to be close. Moderates think progressives are bluffing when they say half their 96-person caucus is willing to vote “no” — especially once Pelosi and Biden start whipping. But even if only 20 progressives oppose the bill, that means the party is going to have to rely on Republicans to pass it, since Pelosi can lose only three votes.
That could be a real problem. Leadership aides have openly acknowledgedthey don’t know if they have the votes to pass it. While 19 Republicans backed the BIF in the Senate, few expect that level of support to translate to the House, where DONALD TRUMP’s hold on GOP members is much stronger.
Perhaps you’re an optimist and think these threats are the kind of posturing you’d expect with major legislation, and that Democrats will ultimately figure it out because the alternative would be a lot worse. It could happen! But at this moment, it does not look promising.
Paul Waldman of the Washington Post writes, Kyrsten Sinema needs to show us what she believes in:
The next week could be the most important of Joe Biden’s presidency, as the fates of the infrastructure and reconciliation bills are likely to be determined. If it passes Congress, the latter will almost certainly be the most significant piece of legislation Biden signs; it could even be the last significant piece of legislation he signs.
So in this moment, everyone is being called upon to decide what matters to them. What do they hope to accomplish? What do they do when faced with competing impulses? What goals are they willing to sacrifice? And why did they get involved in politics in the first place?
Let’s consider those questions through the case of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), perhaps the most enigmatic of the players in this drama.
Like her colleague Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Sinema is a committed supporter of the filibuster and a performative centrist, who clearly believes that it’s to her political advantage in a closely divided state to be seen as independent. Which is fine; every officeholder weighs their political incentives as they approach important decisions.
But in this case, Sinema is putting her foot down on one of the most popular elements of the reconciliation bill: the provision allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription drugs, which would save the government hundreds of billions of dollars. She has reportedly told the White House that she will not stand for it to be included in the bill and even opposes a far more modest proposal to allow for negotiation over a small number of medications.
There is absolutely no political advantage in taking this position. Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices is absurdly popular, with some polls showing over 8 in 10 Americans supporting it. Given Arizona’s large population of senior citizens — who know more about high prescription drug prices than anyone — supporting price negotiation would be a clear political winner for Sinema.
It’s important to understand how central the Medicare provision is to the entire bill. Because Democrats are determined to pay for every last penny of new spending in this legislation, and because negotiating drug prices would save the government hundreds of billions of dollars, eliminating the provision would mean cutting all kinds of other priorities from the bill.
What would they be? Pre-K? Community college? Home care for seniors and the disabled? Paid family leave? An extension of the enhanced child tax credit? It’s up in the air right now, but if your position is that the status quo — a legal ban on Medicare negotiating prices — must remain in place, it means that’s more important to you than the other things the bill seeks to accomplish.
Perhaps Sinema could offer a persuasive explanation for that position. She could, for instance, offer a list of all the things the bill in its current form does that she thinks are not worthwhile, or at least less important than drug company profits. But she hasn’t done that.
This is a broader problem with Sinema: When she is called upon to detail why she is taking a controversial position — for instance, her fervent devotion to the filibuster — she tends to offer explanations that are so weak and blind to reality that one suspects she’s either hiding her real motivations or just doesn’t care.[I believe it is the later.]
We’re told Sinema is a wonky legislator immersed in the substance of the bill (she apparently knows how to use Excel!) [sarcasm], but we don’t know what she actually cares about. What does she want to accomplish? Which of these social insurance measures does she think are vital and which aren’t worth doing?
Sinema reportedly threatened Biden by saying that if the infrastructure bill doesn’t pass the House before the reconciliation bill, she’ll single-handedly kill the latter. But we shouldn’t let (probably empty) threats such as that one distract us from focusing on the substance of what’s at stake.
Because that’s what this is about. It’s fine for Sinema, Manchin or anyone else to look at the reconciliation bill and say, “I’m in favor of items A, B, and C, but not D or E.” People bring different perspectives and priorities to these debates. Then they can try to get the bill to reflect their preferences.
But sooner or later, they have to make clear what matters to them. If making sure drug companies continue to make trillions of dollars in profits is important to Sinema (and apparently it is; she’s one of the drug industry’s most stalwart allies in Congress), then she’ll have to show us what is less important to her.
And no one should be able to hide behind abstract numbers, saying that $3.5 trillion or $2 trillion or some other number is just too big.
A point Cris Hayes made last week.
Over the same 10-year period the reconciliation bill covers, we’ll likely spend around $8 trillion on the military. Sinema and Manchin are in favor of that spending, regardless of the fact that it’s a big number, because they think all those planes and guns and bombs are worth spending that money on.
So when they say the reconciliation bill costs too much, they’re saying they don’t think these things are worth spending money on. They have every right to take that position. But they need to own it and tell everyone why.
A Freshman back bencher senator with no political capital who engages in performance politics does not get to make ultimatums to the president of her party, and jeopardize the political agenda of the Democratic Party of which she is putatively a member. This is totally unacceptable. Back in the day, this would have been unthinkable, and resulted in harsh sanctions from party leadership. Kyrsten Sinema is a political pariah.
Kyrsten Sinema should resign from office and take that sweet lobbyist job she is lining up with her performance politics (she knows that she will not win a Democratic primary in 2024, she is a one termer), and allow Arizona Democrats to select her replacement with a real Democrat who will represent the interests of the Arizonans who voted for her under false pretenses. Sinema committed a profound fraud on the electorate. She is only interested in herself. She does not care a wit about Arizonans who voted for her. Goodbye, and good riddance.
Governor Ducey must appoint a Democrat from three names submitted by the Democratic Party to fill a vacancy in Sinema’s seat.