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Kyrsten Sinema, We’re Sick of Your Act

The Arizona senator wants to cut funding for climate-change policies and opposes a plan to rein in prescription drug prices. She doesn’t deserve the Democratic Party.

Kyrsten Sinema and Mitt Romney at a meeting in June
Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
Kyrsten Sinema and Mitt Romney at a meeting in June to discuss infrastructure spending.

There are Democrats I admire tremendously, like my own Congressman Jamie Raskin, and there are Democrats I’m not crazy about. But there’s only one Democrat for whom I wish future defeat, scandal, and humiliation, and I bet you can guess who that is.

Enough, Kyrsten Sinema. Enough of this self-infatuated preening. Enough of helping to drive down President Biden’s poll numbers. Enough of derailing what should have been—what still can and I believe will be, although thanks to the Arizona senator and some others, not on quite the level it could have been—a great moment in this country’s history. Enough, enough, enough. Liberal America, Democratic America, indeed sensible America transcending ideology and party, is sick of you.

In just the last few days, we’ve learned two new and revolting things. First, this former Green Party spokesperson is demanding that at least $100 billion be cut out of the budget bill’s climate change proposals. That’s out of $450 billion; in other words, nearly a 25 percent cut. Second, she opposes the current prescription drug pricing plan.

It’s hard to say which is worse. The former is certainly more hypocritical, given her background and the paeans to addressing climate change she’s served up repeatedly over the years, and it’s a more existential matter.

But derailing the prescription drug proposal is more corrupt and malevolent. As ever, she says nothing publicly about what her concerns are. There does exist, in all such cases, a smidgeon of a chance that the dissenter has legitimate policy concerns. Senator Joe Manchin, for example, wants stricter means-testing on certain aspects of the bill so the benefits are more directly targeted at working-class people. One can agree or disagree with that, but it’s a position.

Sinema, however, says nothing. Actually, in the prescription drug case, we do have a rare statement from her comms guy, a fellow carrying the apt name of John LaBombard: “As she committed, Kyrsten is working directly in good faith with her colleagues and President Biden on the proposed budget reconciliation package. Given the size and scope of the proposal, while those discussions are ongoing, we are not offering detailed comment on any one proposed piece of the package.”

Is this service to the voters and taxpayers of Arizona? They are paying her salary. They are paying Johnnie’s salary. Actually, all American taxpayers are. She absolutely and affirmatively owes us—but Arizonans in particular—an explanation of what the blazes she’s up to.

Without any stated rationale on her part, with such prodigious contempt for the people she allegedly serves, we have every right to assume the worst: that Sinema is just selling herself out to Big Pharma. It’s despicable. Lowering prescription drug prices has been a top-tier Democratic agenda item since Bill Clinton’s presidency. So much so that it even became a punch line: When all else fails, pundits would write, Democrats talk prescription drug prices.

It polls through the roof. And substantively, the prices Americans pay are a moral abomination. Insulin, for example, could easily be free. That’s right. Free. The cost to the government would be peanuts—$10 billion a year. Or, charge people $10 a dose and cut the cost to taxpayers significantly. But I’ve always thought that Democrats should just make insulin, specifically, free. It’s clear and unambiguous and unforgettable; the federal policy equivalent of a governor lowering a bridge toll, say. It would be the first thing that would come to the mind of the average voter. “Biden? Well, there’s good and bad, I reckon, but by cracky, he made insulin free!”

They won’t do that I guess, but here they are, after 25 years, finally on the cusp of lowering prescription drug prices. And Sinema and a few others may kill it. If the Democrats don’t manage to include prescription drug price reform in this bill, I hope every one of the Democrats who derailed it gets a primary and loses. This is that fundamental an issue.

The other thing about Sinema that’s gotten really old is all this guessing about what motivates her. Who cares? I think Michelle Goldberg got it right last week. Sinema has “come to believe in bipartisanship for its own sake, divorced from any underlying policy goals.” But really, I don’t give a crap what drives her. I care only about her actions, and what she’s doing here is inexcusable.

And really, it’s not just her. It’s also Manchin, obviously, although at least Manchin is more transparent, and a handful of House “moderates.” Are they really moderate? Their behavior looks pretty immoderate, if you ask me. The House lefties are flexing their collective muscle, too, but the key point here is that their position is the president’s position. So this whole appalling dance is on the so-called moderates, and they’re doing themselves and their president tremendous harm.

One of the best historic indicators of midterm election results is the president’s approval rating at the time. Biden has sunk to the mid- to low 40s, and while most of it is probably Delta variant–related, some of it surely has to do with the fact that he hasn’t had a W since March (the Covid relief bill). If Democrats had avoided this shitshow and passed these two bills right after Labor Day, as they should have, Biden would be up around 50 and people would be talking very differently about his and his party’s posture heading into the midterms. Yes, there’s still time, but this entire mess was avoidable, and it has done damage that can’t be undone.

The only silver lining is that it’s damaged Sinema, too. She’s gone from 48-35 approval in Arizona earlier this year to 42-42. She’s lost 21 points among Democrats, and she’s now underwater with independents by five points.

So yes, there are admirable Democrats and dubious Democrats. And then there’s Sinema. She’s in a category of her own. She seriously thinks she’s like John McCain? When McCain bucked his party—on Obamacare, and on campaign finance reform, the one thing Mitch McConnell hates more than anything else—he was taking on special interests. Sinema is bucking her party by serving those interests. I don’t expect her to see the difference, but I sure hope Arizonans do.