It’s Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s turn to play the skunk at President Joe Biden’s picnic. It’s almost as if she and Sen. Joe Manchin are deliberately working together to try to kill the large budget reconciliation package that will contain his Build Back Better programs. It’s turning into a dangerous game of Whac-a-Mole: Manchin presents his unreasonable demands and the White House and fellow Democrats scramble to meet them, only to have Sinema then pop up with her must-haves. Or in this case, must-have-nots.
Sinema’s not having any reversal of the Trump tax cuts, she’s told lobbyists. Raising taxes on corporations, the rich, and on capital gains were all in the mix for lawmakers when formulating ways to pay for Biden’s agenda. According to what those lobbyists have told The Wall Street Journal, she is opposed to an increase in any of those rates. Punchbowl News reports that there might be some changes she would accept, including an increase on the super rich but not one that would raise individual rates.
Sinema, who condemned those Trump tax cuts as “a bad deal for Arizona” which “explodes the federal debt, likely raises taxes on many small businesses, and makes it harder for Arizona families to get ahead,” is now demanding that those same tax cuts remain in place. “I would like to support bipartisan tax reform that upholds our values, but tax cuts are not tax reform,” she said back then. “Passing unbalanced tax cuts for short-term political gain is not in the best interest of Arizona or the American people.” But keeping those unbalanced tax cuts at the cost of making life more livable for all American families and saving the planet is now just fine.
House Democrats have proposed hiking the corporate tax rate from 21% to 26.5%, boosting the top individual rate from 37% to 39.6%, and increasing the top capital gains tax rate from 23.8% to 28.8%%. Nope, nope, and nope, Sinema says. That takes hundreds of billions out of the mix for the reconciliation bill, severely curtailing what can be passed—politically, that is. Because in actual reality, the money would be there at $6 trillion for this package—which it deserves—if the political will to do it were there.
The country isn’t “going broke,” and there don’t have to be “pay-fors” for making sure Americans have decent lives. If Congress can give the Pentagon $24 billion more than it even asked for in next year’s budget, they can afford to give all the children in the country free preschool.
Since our Congress is operating under the theory that everything but defense spending and tax cuts have to be paid for, they are now scrambling to deal with Sinema and her demands. Rep. Richard Neal and Sen. Ron Wyden, the committee chairs responsible for the revenue side of this bill, talked Wednesday with Biden administration officials to come up with some other options, CNN reports. “Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Brian Deese, the director of Biden’s National Economic Council, were among those who participated in the call from the administration, the people said.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden is still intending to include a hike to the corporate tax rate. “He thinks that is not only fair but is long overdue,” Psaki said, adding that it is “clear where he stands.” In the meantime, they have to try to figure out what Sinema might not block. Psaki said that “there are a range of components on tax fairness that are in the package, including the global minimum tax, something that we have led the world on,” and that there are “other components in the tax fairness elements that the president is excited about” other than raising the corporate rate.
That could include taxing stock buybacks, revising international tax provisions, or a tax on the assets of billionaires. Whether or not Sinema would go along with any of this is not clear to anyone because Sinema is not talking to her colleagues. She is only speaking with the White House, supposedly. And lobbyists. Because of course she’s not going to stop talking to lobbyists.
Once they’ve trimmed another several hundred billion out and not raised anyone’s taxes to keep Sinema on board, expect Manchin to present his next set of demands. Maybe he’ll want to put children to work sweeping chimneys in exchange for their school lunches.