If Kyrsten Sinema wants to be a bridge-builder, she should start with her own party

September 23, 2021 10:43 am

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) speaks briefly to reporters as she boards an elevator following votes at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 20, 2021. Sinema told the White House if the House delays its scheduled Sept. 27 vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan, or if the vote fails, she won’t be backing a reconciliation bill. Photo by Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

There is likely no other Democrat that has taken more fire from her party this last year than Arizona Sen. Krysten Sinema.

Sinema won the ire of progressives because of her insistence on preserving an archaic Senate rule that has historically been used to hamper civil rights: the filibuster. Democrats fear the filibuster will prevent any hope of passing major election reforms. Reforms needed because of the continued assault on voting rights in conservative states across the country, including Arizona.

I’ve taken a swing at Sinema, as well, commenting on more than one occasion that real mavericks don’t simply say “no” to their party, they get stuff done.

Sinema has the potential to put a huge feather in her cap and show naysayers like myself and other progressives that Congress isn’t broken, and bipartisanship is possible on some issues, such as the infrastructure bill she helped craft and shepherd through the first stages of congressional approval.

Should the infrastructure bill pass, Sinema will reap (deservedly so) huge kudos. But should it fail, her legacy (and her chances at reelection) will take a hit. That’s why I’m so mystified by her willingness to play hardball with her fellow Democrats on the reconciliation bill and potentially toss all of it — reconciliation AND infrastructure — in the trash.   

This week, Sinema was reported as telling President Biden she will vote against the reconciliation bill if the infrastructure bill fails or does not receive its promised Sept. 27 vote in the House.

Sinema pointed out that an up or down vote was promised by that day, and leadership needs to hold firm to that commitment. But Sinema has unnecessarily complicated the passage of both bills because of her vague opposition to the price tag of the reconciliation bill and her sudden opposition to the prescription drug pricing plan, a major part of the bill.

For as long as I can remember, Democrats have been united in their insistence on lowering prescription drug costs for seniors. The plan is hugely popular with Americans, and for good reason. We pay significantly more for prescription drugs than many other countries because we refuse to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.

Dems have a plan to change that and save billions of dollars in the process, but Sinema, for reasons she has refused to detail, is opposed. One can only assume her opposition has something to do with the fact that she is a favorite among pharmaceutical companies, raking in nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions during the last election cycle. Or, perhaps, that a recent ad campaign on her behalf may have swayed her. 

If Dems cannot recoup the savings from a prescription drug pricing overhaul, they’ll lose their ability to pay for expanded Medicare coverage for vision, hearing and dental, another popular and far-reaching proposal.

Progressive Dems are adamant in their refusal to consider the infrastructure bill if they cannot receive assurances from Senators Sinema and Joe Manchin they will not torpedo the reconciliation bill, which leaves Congress, once again, at an impasse.

But they’re not solely at an impasse because of differences between the two parties. Rather, this is an intra-party stalemate. 

Dems could pass both bills, but egos and bare-knuckle politics are standing in the way. And if Democrats cannot pass major legislation on issues they’ve long promised to tackle while they control both houses of Congress plus the presidency, why would voters continue to believe they should be in power?

This party dysfunction will reverberate in 2022, when Dems face an uphill battle to preserve their majorities in both the House and the Senate. But it also has the potential to harm Democrats in statewide and local races.

Political consultants used to say that “all politics are local.” But that has changed over the last several years to “all politics are national.” Polarization has made it increasingly difficult to separate D.C. politics from AZ politics — and even school board politics.

Sinema seems to be making a gamble she’s better off politically if both bills fail rather than succeed. I believe that’s a foolish bet, and I worry her wager will undercut the campaigns of other Arizona Democrats.

If she’s concerned about her legacy, she’ll put aside her ego and work not just across the aisle, but within it. Be a consensus builder for Dems, especially when momentous, life-changing policy is on the line.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Julie Erfle
Julie Erfle

Julie Erfle hails from North Dakota, but has called Arizona home for more than twenty years. She began her career in Phoenix as a creative services producer at KPHO-TV5 and 3TV. Blending her background in communications with her passion for community activism, Julie launched the political blog Politics Uncuffed in 2011, and began working as a communications director and consultant on candidate and initiative campaigns. She is the former executive director of Progress Now Arizona, a progressive communications and advocacy non-profit, and a fellow with the Flinn-Brown Arizona Center for Civic Leadership and Leading for Change.