The King or Queen of Capitol Hill in 2021

5/29/20

I’d like to introduce the most powerful person in Washington in February 2021.  Ladies and gentlemen: Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). 

If the Democrats take control of the Senate after the elections in November, they are likely to have either 51 seats, or 50 seats and President Biden’s vice president’s vote, to break a tie.  Senator Chuck Schumer will be the majority leader and he wants to change Senate rules to allow legislation to pass with 51 votes, instead of 60.  If Republicans hold on, they will have the narrowest majority.   

Either way, Senator Sinema will be a key vote and an important voice. 

Elected to the Senate in 2018, Sinema is nonetheless the senior senator from Arizona and will be an important player and useful partner for colleagues who want to pass legislation.  She has established herself as reliably moderate so far.  On our issues, she has reached across the aisle to author a modest paid leave proposal with Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA).  The bipartisan plan would?allow new parents to receive $5,000 right away in exchange for a reduced childcare tax credit of $1,500 per year for 10 years.? Low income parents who pay less in taxes and are not eligible for the full childcare tax credit would be able to receive 12 weeks’ leave with full wage replacement in exchange for a smaller reduction to their taxes over 15 years.   

Sinema-Cassidy was promptly dismissed by more liberal Democrats as weak tea.  Nevertheless, the partnership with a conservative was typical for Sinema – more than half of the bills she cosponsors are bipartisan.  And she has been a reasonably successful legislator – having authored two bills involving veterans’ issues which have been signed into law.  That’s not a bad record these days when Rose Garden signing ceremonies are few and far between. 

The public policy think tank The Lugar Center ranks Sinema as the most bipartisan Democratic senator.  The Lugar Center’s rankings are intended to measure “the efforts of legislators to broaden the appeal of their sponsored legislation, to entertain a wider range of ideas, and to prioritize governance over posturing.” 

Questions about her bipartisan cred versus her heart of hearts have dogged Sinema in her campaigns going back to her election to the House of Representatives and both houses of the Arizona legislature.  Republican detractors say her Green Party registration, Ralph Nader support, and Iraq War opposition in her 20s show her true colors.   

Maybe she would lean more to the left if she could.  But it doesn’t matter.  Senator Sinema is now in her 40s and represents a state that Donald Trump won four years ago with 48% to Hillary Clinton’s 44%.  That’s as purple as it gets.  To keep winning purple states, elected officials must reach across the aisle and demonstrate results. 

Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) have wielded a great deal of power and extracted benefits for their states by teaming up early and often with members of the other party and being able to count to 60. 

Senator Kyrsten Sinema is going to take on that role next year and to tally accomplishments she may only need to count to 51.