Sinema enters Biden’s $3.5T budget battle armed with her own spreadsheets

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is negotiating the size and scope of President Biden’s $3.5 trillion budget plan armed with her own spreadsheets about the costs and tax hikes needed for each program, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: While Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is getting attention for balking at a $3.5 trillion top-line price tag, Sinema’s accountant-like focus on the bottom line will be equally important to winning the votes of them and other key Democrats.

Sinema’s intense interest in the numbers also suggests she’ll be a formidable foil for progressives — like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — who are working to make the spending bill as big as possible.“As she has said publicly, Sen. Sinema will continue working in good faith with her colleagues and President Biden as this legislation develops — and will be closely reviewing what the committees propose,” said John LaBombard, Sinema’s communications director.

The big picture: Despite the focus on Manchin, party leaders and the White House are aware of Sinema’s potential concerns.

As early as July, she was clear the $3.5 trillion price tag was too high for her.The lack of clarity about how long each program will last has frustrated both senators and outside budget groups.The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has tried to bring uniformity to the process and ended up pricing the reconciliation package at $5.5 trillion.

Between the lines: Sinema and Manchin aren’t necessarily on the same page on which programs — and which tax increases — they can stomach.

Crafting a deal to address Manchin’s concerns doesn’t ensure Sinema also will be happy.

Behind the scenes: Sinema refers to her spreadsheets as she strategizes with colleagues about next steps in the budget process.

As House and Senate committees begin to write specific legislation, she’s updating her data to ensure she has accurate top- and bottom-line figures.

The bottom line: By internalizing the numbers, Sinema is prepared to challenge parts of Biden’s overall $3.5 trillion package.

She’s also putting herself in a position to cut deals, as she did when she helped broker the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.It received 69 votes, including 19 Republicans, in the Senate last month.

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