Sinema lingers like a huge question mark on the democratic agenda

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Senate Democrats are scrambling to pass Manchin’s big bill but aren’t sure if Sinema supports it. Schumer has set up a key vote for Saturday as Manchin and Sinema try to iron out their differences. Some Senate Republicans vow to “fight with everything we’ve got.” Something is loading.

Senate Democrats are poised to take one of their biggest bets yet on President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda.

Senate Majority Chuck Schumer held the first procedural vote on Saturday afternoon for the $740 billion climate, energy and tax bill. That would set the stage on Sunday for what’s called a “vote-a-rama,” a session where lawmakers from both parties can propose as many amendments as they can physically stomach in a single session.

But one Democratic senator lingers like a big question mark: Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. The centrist Democrat has not publicly commented on the package that Manchin secretly negotiated with Schumer and unveiled only a week ago, catching almost everyone in Congress by surprise.

Without Sinema’s vote, Senate Democrats can’t clear the package thanks to unanimous GOP resistance to the budget reconciliation process, which requires only a simple majority vote in the upper house.

The package would extend help for people to buy 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 would also allow Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs, a popular priority for Democrats.

But Sinema is not on board and is said to be pursuing two key changes to the legislation. Sinema wants to eject a measure narrowing the carried interest loophole that largely benefits wealthy investors and hedge fund managers. It is also seeking to add $5 billion for drought resilience.

The backdrop is becoming more and more turbulent in the Capitol. Republicans and Democrats are still battling over what can be included in the “Byrd Bath,” a part of reconciliation in which a senior Senate official determines which provisions of the bill meet strict budget rules and can be adopted as part of the process.

“I think we have some work to do on the procedural front,” Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon told Insider. “But I think it’s going well and we’re starting to see the end in sight.”

Sinema also seemed to keep many of his colleagues in the dark. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who drafted the 15% minimum corporate tax with Sinema last fall, said they had not spoken.

After sinking Biden’s economy twice in the space of six months, Manchin has become the leading salesman for the legislation. He and Sinema were seen having a 15-minute chat 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 left the Capitol for the day, he declined to give details of his speech to reporters.

Republicans castigate the legislation as a major tax hike for Americans.

Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota says he thinks Republicans should drag out the proceedings by requiring Senate clerks to read aloud the 725 pages of the bill on the floor. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin last used this tactic in March 2021, delaying passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill 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 trip longer if that’s what it takes. The idea that we’re going to raise taxes and raise spending during a time of recession and inflation is so absurd.”

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