As work continued last month on the Democrats' Build Back Better package, The New York Times reported a striking detail that seemed hard to believe. Toward the bottom of a longer article, the newspaper said that Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona "has privately told colleagues she will not accept any corporate or income tax rate increases."
If true, this represented an enormously consequential position. Democrats in the White House and congressional leadership crafted ambitious domestic plans, to be paid for by rolling back parts of the Republicans' ineffective Trump-era tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations. The Times was reporting, however, that Sinema — who voted against those Trump-era tax breaks — would not tolerate even partial increases.
While I was skeptical of the reporting, it wasn't long before other outlets started pointing in the same direction. Last week, Business Insider reported, "A major holdup in the talks is Sinema's opposition to any tax increases for individuals and large corporations." Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal highlighted the same legislative dynamic:
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's opposition to tax increases is causing Senate Democrats to look at financing their sprawling social policy and climate package without raising tax rates on businesses, high-income individuals or capital gains, according to people familiar with the matter.
The article added that the Arizona Democrat "has told lobbyists that she is opposed to any increase in those rates," leaving Democratic leaders to scramble to find alternate sources of revenue to finance the legislation.
Around the same time, Politico also reported, "Democrats have a Kyrsten Sinema problem when it comes to raising taxes. As they seek to finalize President Joe Biden's social spending plan by the end of the week, Sinema (D-Ariz.) remains opposed to one of the party's chief goals of raising tax rates on high-income earners and corporations, a long-sought objective since former President Donald Trump signed his 2017 tax cut law."
As frustrating as it's been to see West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin insist on a smaller reconciliation package, Sinema's apparent position on taxes is even more difficult to understand.
The GOP's tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations didn't work. They're also unpopular. Democrats, up and down the ballot, ran on a 2020 platform of rolling back some of the Trump-era tax breaks, and voters responded by giving the party control of the House, Senate, and White House. Sinema herself was so unimpressed by the Republicans' policy that in 2017, she voted against them.
And yet, here we are, reading reports about the Arizona Democrat fighting to protect the tax cuts she opposed.
It's possible, of course, that all of this reporting is wrong. Maybe, behind the scenes, Sinema is playing a far more constructive role on tax policy, and her position is more in line with Democratic orthodoxy than we've been led to believe. Perhaps the senator isn't to Manchin's right on this issue. Maybe she really is prepared to reverse some of the ineffective Trump-era tax breaks.
It's difficult to say for sure because Sinema hasn't made much of an effort to clarify matters. The Arizonan hasn't held any press conferences to explain her position. She hasn't done any sit-down interviews, either. Sinema could issue some kind of official statement articulating what she does and does not support when it comes to tax policy, but that also hasn't happened. By some accounts, she's even reluctant to tell her own colleagues about her preferences.
I won't pretend to know what Sinema is thinking, but if she fights to protect the tax cuts she used to oppose, the damage it could do to her party's domestic agenda is extraordinary.