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Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema both met separately with President Biden at the White House on Tuesday, as Democrats face a massive push to pass the $3.5 trillion bill that would expand the social safety net. The issue: both senators refuse to vote for the bill unless it is trimmed down to meet their specifications.
Biden's ambitious first-term Build Back Better agenda is packed into the massive bill, and although the proposed legislation has no support from Senate Republicans, the budgetary process of reconciliation, would create a 50 vote threshold for passage.
Since the Senate is evenly split along party lines in a 50-50 divide, Sinema and Manchin, the two hold-out Democratic votes, retain all the power. House progressives are also demanding that the Senate vote on the larger bill first, that contains their critical increased safety net provisions, or they will not support the smaller $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that passed with bipartisan support in the Senate.
While some might see this as a problem of duality that includes both moderate and progressive Democrats, an overwhelming 66% of Americans support the Build Back Better agenda, including 61% of Independents and 39% of Republicans. This means the real issue is not with the priority of which bill is voted on first, but rather the lack of support from Sinema and Manchin in passing the bill in its current state.
Another frustrating aspect of the negotiations this week involves the amount of fundraising both Sinema and Manchin have been doing simply by withholding their votes to demand more cuts. Neither one have openly said what they need to see in the bill, nor have they committed to an exact dollar amount in order to secure their votes. By objecting to the bill as it stands and committing to withholding their votes without making specific statements about why, donations will continue to put in from all sides and the longer they hold out, the longer they can keep fundraising.
This strategy allows them to take in campaign donations from all sides — they can still raise money from the fossil fuel industry, which is very interested in Biden’s agenda and its climate change provisions and they can get large donations from conservative opponents to the bill, who want to trim various aspects. They can also take in contributions from green proponents who have a significant interest in Democrats striking a compromise this week.
Another significant problem is the amount of dark money Manchin and Sinema are able to access. The following is an excerpt from an article published in SHERO in March of this year, entitled Republicans Pretend to Fight Dark Money:
“Dark money” can be an elusive term, but it ultimately refers to money that is spent to influence political outcomes where the source of the money is not disclosed. This process of using dark money to influence elections typically happens in two ways. First, politically active groups utilize a nonprofit 501(c)(4) status, which does not require them to disclose donors, and they also keep their backers’ identities a secret. Another way to engage in dark money operations can be the use of shell companies, that house and distribute bulk funding that can go to political entities or other non-opaque non-profit structures, so that money cannot be traced back to an original donor.
Since the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court ruling that gave rise to politically active nonprofits, these dark money groups have spent roughly $1 billion on methods meant to influence voters, mainly television and online ads and mailers. By concealing the sources of the covert funding that pays for these legal political “hit-jobs,” the electorate is bombarded with misleading political messaging that protects the true motives of corporations and the wealthy who are willing to pay for influence.
Senator Manchin has been linked to Viatris, which was previously called Mylan Inc: a pharmaceutical company that specializes in generic drugs. Mylan was one of Manchin’s largest campaign contributors in five election cycles, donating around $211,000 since 2009 to his campaigns through PACs and employees. Viatris is the number one career donor to Manchin when you include all past donations from Mylan.
Mylan settled a suit with the Department of Justice and other government agencies in 2016, for $465 million after Heather Bresch’s company was accused of overcharging the Medicaid program for EpiPens. Bresch was also called in front of Congress in December of 2016 to explain the details of the settlement, but refused to testify. This is just one instance of Senator Manchin’s ongoing dealings that involve dark money donations, of which there are many.
Last week, I published an article in SHERO that detailed a recently leaked email from dark money group No Labels. In the email director Margaret White reminded her donors that the critical reconciliation bill, backed by Congressional Democrats, can still be killed, while White congratulated Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) for her “heroic efforts” in the task.
The email also allegedly praised Sinema for her relentless fight to destroy the infrastructure bill on their behalf. Liberal non-profit group Accountable.US compiled a detailed report of donations to Sinema from organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce, PhRMA, and various other groups who appear to be actively working against the reconciliation package.
Overall, Sinema has taken at least $923,065 from these industry groups and individual corporations, who are financially backing the charge against the Build Back Better agenda and its $3.5 trillion in funding for critical safety net programs in the US. In addition to receiving campaign donations openly from lobbying groups on both sides of the argument, both Sinema and Manchin have been able to amass huge dark money contributions by simply sitting on the fence and staying quiet about what they will find agreeable.
Candidates who rake in the most money for their parties are given elite positions within certain committees. These appointments give a Senator more prominence and power within the party, but also put them in a position to take in more money from interested groups that will be affected by decisions made within those committees. This is an ongoing cycle of power to amass more power, which ultimately leads to more campaign money and more personal money-making opportunities.
Access to prominent politicians, certain committee members, and the White House comes at a very high premium and many corporations and groups rely on this VIP access to further their own political agendas and strike deal to enrich themselves. Late Tuesday night, the president canceled a scheduled Wednesday trip to Chicago to talk about COVID-19 vaccines, so he can stay in town and work on advancing the infrastructure and reconciliation bills.
While it’s necessary for Biden to assist in getting his agenda through the Senate, the president has now had to postpone critical work that serves the American people during a pandemic so that Sinema can get more face time and sell her access. Kyrsten Sinema is scheduled to meet with president Biden again this morning at the White House to discuss further compromise — I wonder how much she’s making from it.
Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter and is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines, and analyst for BBC radio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.
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