Good morning! It’s Thursday, October 21, 2021. Election Day 2024 is 1,111 days away. Election Day 2022 is 383 days away.
Democrats have had it with Kyrsten Sinema
One of the central promises of President Biden’s sweeping spending plan has been his pledge that, despite its hefty price tag, it will be completely paid-for and will add nothing to the deficit.
Biden has been planning to make good on that promise by financing his domestic agenda through a suite of tax increases, including raising the top marginal income tax rate from 37% to 39.6% for the wealthiest Americans, raising the top capital gains tax rate from 20% to 39.6%, and raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%.
The tax changes are largely backed by Democrats, including Joe Manchin. In his July memo to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Manchin signed off on a 39.6% top income tax rate, while proposing more modest increases to the corporate tax rate (25%) and top capital gains tax rate (28%).
Manchin was calling for less money to be spent, so it’s natural that he wanted less revenue raised as well — under his plan, there would just be less that needs to be paid for. But, all in all, the West Virginian has not stood in the way of raising taxes.
Enter Kyrsten Sinema. According to a new report by the Wall Street Journal, the Arizona Democrat has told lobbyists that she is opposed to any increases in the corporate tax rate or the top marginal rates for high-earning individuals or capital gains.
Sinema “is now pushing Democrats to plan more seriously for a bill that doesn’t include those major revenue increases,” the Journal reported on Wednesday.
Democrats are now scrambling to come up with ways to finance their package. Some new ideas being discussed include “a new minimum tax on corporations; a plan to beef up tax enforcement through the Internal Revenue Service; a tax on companies issuing stock ‘buybacks’ to company shareholders; and an overhaul of international tax provisions aimed at raising minimum taxes on multinational firms,” the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
Sinema had previously nixed another one of Biden’s signature non-tax revenue-raisers, a plan to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, which would have lowered costs for the government and individual Americans alike.
As the hunt continues for tax changes she will accept, top Democrats are quickly losing patience with Sinema. According to Punchbowl News, their new strategy is to simply ignore her: White House officials and Democratic congressional leaders “now believe it would be more productive to seek a deal with Manchin, bring House and Senate progressives on board, and then dare Sinema to block it,” cutting the iconoclastic Arizonan out of the process entirely.
“On [prescription drug prices] and on revenue, I’m struggling to really grasp what her endgame is,” one Democratic senator groused to Politico. “But she insists: ‘I will get there, I’m not going to tank this. I will work out something.’”
This fight over paying for the spending package crystallizes the divergent approaches taken by Manchin and Sinema. The two centrists have been frequently grouped together — including in this newsletter — because they are the sole Democratic senators who have offered major objections to Biden’s spending plan.
But the “Manchinema” (or is it “Sinemanchin”?) label obscures the fact that the two senators have approached these spending talks very differently. While Manchin frequently speaks to the press and voices his opinions on specific Biden proposals, Sinema is a more elusive figure in Washington.
She rarely speaks to reporters and has often kept her fellow Democrats in the dark — which is why her sudden pronouncements keep surprising them, like on the issue of paying for the package. Critics charge that while Manchin is more or less consistent in his fiscally conservative ideology, there is little through-line between Sinema’s views.
(For example, she once supported lowering prescription drug prices and also voted against the Trump-era tax cuts that she now opposes reversing.)
Sinema has also particularly frustrated Democrats because the provisions she is spiking from Biden’s agenda are among the most popular.
68% of Americans support raising taxes on wealthy Americans and 62% support raising the corporate tax rate, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll of the two ideas Sinema is now opposing.
Similarly, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 83% of Americans favor allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices, putting Sinema in a small minority.
Sinema’s opposition to Biden’s plans are also seen as less necessary for her political survival: as the journalist Matthew Yglesias points out, Manchin’s opposition to Biden proposals only fuels his popularity in West Virginia, where he is likely the only Democrat who could win statewide — something that is not at all true for Sinema.
These overlapping dynamics have led to some speculation that Sinema is considering bolting the party. Writers from The Atlantic, the New York Times opinion page, and beyond have wondered whether Sinema — possibly facing a progressive primary challenge in 2024 — could be planning to become an Independent.
These rumors are something “Manchinema” do have in common: Mother Jones reported on Wednesday that Manchin has told associates he is considering leaving the Democratic Party.
Manchin, however, quickly shot the speculation down. “It’s bullshit,” he flatly told reporters in the halls of the Capitol.
Sinema has not personally fueled rumors she is considering a change in party registration — but she also hasn’t closed the door on them in the way that Manchin did yesterday. Instead, she remains elusive as ever. If there is one thing that remains consistent about the self-styled maverick, it’s that she always seems to delight in keeping everyone guessing.
What else you should know
— Senate Republicans blocked voting rights legislation on Wednesday for the third time this year, leaving little path forward for the Democratic priority.
— The FDA authorized booster shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccines, while also approving a “mix and match” approach to allow Americans to receive a booster shot from a different company than they received their first shot from.
— Former President Donald Trump is creating his own social media platform, “TRUTH Social.”
Policy Roundup: Legal
The week’s top legal headlines, compiled by Wake Up To Politics legal contributor Anna Salvatore.
Calling Texas’s new abortion law “plainly unconstitutional,” the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court on Monday to temporarily block the law until a challenge moves through federal court. Known colloquially as S.B. 8, the legislation bans most abortions in the state, and it was written in a way that makes it difficult for federal judges to review it. “Texas designed S.B. 8… to thwart judicial review,” wrote Acting Solicitor General Brian Fletcher in the Department’s brief.
The Supreme Court already ruled last month by a 5-4 vote that S.B. 8 could stand in Texas, and the 5th Circuit issued a similar ruling last Thursday; however, neither court fully considered the constitutionality of the law, as they were only ruling on whether to pause its enforcement. The Justice Department is now asking the Supreme Court to take up the case this fall.
Former President Donald Trump sued earlier this week to prevent a special House committee from accessing his private communications about the January 6th riot. According to BuzzFeed News, “the case represents the former president’s latest, and arguably most formal, attack on the Jan. 6th investigation so far,” given that he has already ordered several top advisers to ignore the committee’s subpoenas.
In his latest lawsuit, Trump claims that executive privilege shields many of the documents the committee is seeking — documents which include his messages with top officials about his speech at the “Stop the Steal” rally immediately before the riot. Unless a federal court prevents the National Archive from releasing the documents, the House committee will see them by November 12.
On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case about gambling on Texas reservations. The case concerns the U.S. Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a 1987 law that prevents many federally recognized Native American tribes from allowing gambling. The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo tribe agreed to this requirement in the ’80s, but now that Texas has legalized forms of gambling like dog- and horse-track betting, the tribe wants in on the action.
According to SCOTUSblog, “The question is whether [federal] law prohibits any kind of gambling that is banned under state law, or whether it goes further and also prohibits any gaming that the state regulates.” The Native tribe, of course, hopes that the justices will go for the narrower reading.
More legal headlines, via Anna:
- In two Monday orders, the Supreme Court sided with police officers in qualified immunity disputes.
- The 4th Circuit will decide whether a North Carolina charter school violated the Equal Protection Clause by requiring girls to wear skirts and dresses.
- The 9th Circuit overturned a nationwide order on Wednesday that had required immigration authorities to potentially release detainees at high risk of contracting COVID-19.
All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 9:30 a.m. Then, at 11:55 a.m., he will deliver remarks at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. At 6:45 p.m., the president will travel to Baltimore, Maryland, along with First Lady Jill Biden, touching down in the city at 7:05 p.m.
At 8 p.m., Biden will participate in a CNN town hall in Baltimore. The live broadcast event will be moderated by Anderson Cooper and will include questions from an invitation-only audience. At 10:10 p.m., the Bidens will depart Maryland, arriving back at the White House at 10:30 p.m.
Vice President Kamala Harris will also speak at the MLK Memorial celebration. At 6:40 p.m., she will speak at a campaign event for Virginia gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe in Dumfries, Virginia.
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold a press briefing at 2 p.m.
CONGRESS The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and resume consideration of Tana Lin’s nomination to be a U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Washington.
At 10:30 a.m., the Senate will hold a cloture vote to advance Lin’s nomination, followed by cloture votes on Douglas Parker’s nomination to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health and Mryna Perez’s nomination to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Second Circuit.
If the cloture vote on Lin’s nomination is successful, the Senate will vote at 1:45 p.m. on her confirmation.
The House will convene at 10 a.m. The chamber is scheduled to vote on a resolution that would hold former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for his failure to comply with a subpoena issued by the January 6 select committee.
If the full House approves the resolution, a criminal referral will be sent to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, who will decide whether or not to prosecute Bannon.
CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEES The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. to conduct oversight of the Justice Department. Attorney General Merrick Garland will testify.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on the Equal Rights Amendment. Actress Alyssa Milano will be on of the witnesses.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing at 10:15 a.m. on “safeguarding inspector general independence and integrity.” Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, will be one of the witnesses.
The Supreme Court has no conferences or oral arguments scheduled.
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