Likely primary challenger surges as Sinema promises corporate donors she’ll protect their tax breaks
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., assured corporate donors on Tuesday that she would fight her party’s efforts to unwind their tax breaks as Democrats try to revive portions of President Joe Biden’s stalled Build Back Better plan.
Sinema, who has received more than $900,000 in donations from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups opposing Biden’s plan, attended an event held by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Phoenix to assuage donors’ concerns that the renewed spending negotiations may threaten their low tax rates.
“What I can’t tell you is if negotiations will start again or what they’ll look like,” she said. “But what I can promise you is that I’ll be the same person in negotiations if they start again that I was in negotiations last year.”
Sinema assured the group that she would oppose raising taxes on corporations with her pivotal vote in the 50-50 Senate.
“You all know, the entire country knows, that I’m opposed to raising the corporate minimum tax rate,” she said, adding that she opposes “any tax policies that would put a brake on any type of economic growth or forestall business and personal growth for America’s industries.”
Sinema has repeatedly held talks with donor groups that oppose key parts of Biden’s proposal throughout negotiations even as she largely avoided discussing the bill with journalists or constituents. The latest remarks threaten to upend negotiations over a slimmed-down spending package before they even begin. She has privately told donors that a revival of the spending bill is “unlikely,” according to Axios.
Fellow holdout Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who blew up negotiations entirely in December, last month floated a revised $1 trillion proposal that would provide $500 billion in funding for climate programs and lower the cost of prescription drugs as long as other Democrats agree to use the other $500 billion to reduce the deficit and approve new drilling permits. But Manchin’s proposal would be funded by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices — a provision Sinema and other pharma-backed Democrats dramatically watered down in talks last year — and rolling back the Trump tax cuts on the wealthy and corporations. Sinema has repeatedly opposed rolling back the Trump tax cuts despite previously criticizing corporate tax breaks and demanding big companies “pay their fair share.”
“We’ll just see if there’s a pathway forward,” Manchin told reporters on Tuesday. “We don’t know if there’s a pathway forward yet.”
Sinema told another industry group this week that she is “always willing” to engage in negotiations but is focused on making sure any spending proposal is “responsibly offset and that new revenue provisions protect qualified small business income where possible.”
“I work every day to ensure any government spending is targeted and thoughtful because a lean, efficient government helps avoid price hikes,” she said at a National Federation of Independent Business event.
Republicans who roundly opposed Biden’s proposal have expressed confidence that Sinema would block any Democratic plans to undo the tax breaks for corporations and wealthy donors.
“Sinema is unenthusiastic about tax hikes. Hopefully that will be enough to keep this thing underwater permanently,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said at a Kentucky Chamber of Commerce event on Tuesday. “I don’t know if it’s dead yet,” he added. “I’d like to smother it if I knew how to do it.”
The dynamic has frustrated Democrats for months.
“The fact that we haven’t been able to come up with something that we can agree on yet — it’s just shocking to me,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., told Insider. “I think we need to get a deal.”
Sinema’s role in the stalled Democratic agenda has also baffled supporters back home, where numerous efforts have been launched to back a potential primary challenger to the first-term senator.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., has emerged as a leading potential progressive primary foe after repeatedly calling out Sinema, though he would have to compete with a well-funded effort backed by Sinema’s many corporate supporters if he chooses to challenge her in 2024.
Gallego raised more than $510,000, a personal record, in the first three months of the year for his re-election bid, which he is expected to easily win. That number is more than four times the amount he raised during the same period last election cycle, according to Insider. He raised a total of $1.8 million in 2020.
Groups backing a potential primary challenger have also reported hundreds of thousands in donations.
Speculation about Sinema’s political future has continued to mount. Along with her opposition to rolling back the Trump tax cuts, Sinema has opposed Democratic efforts to repeal the filibuster to pass legislation related to voting rights, LGBTQ protections, union protections and raising the minimum wage.
Just 19% of Arizona Democratic primary voters have a favorable opinion of Sinema, according to a January Data for Progress poll, compared to 78% for fellow Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz. The poll showed Gallego with a 58% favorable rating and leading Sinema by a 74-16 margin.
“In the wake of her recent vote to preserve the filibuster and kill voting rights legislation — and after months of her repeated obstruction of the president’s Build Back Better agenda — it’s clear that Sinema’s continued obstruction has only served to lower her support,” the pollsters’ analysis warned. “And it may well be to the benefit of Rep. Gallego, who has been courting calls to run for Senate for months, that Arizona Democratic primary voters are so prepared to unseat her.”