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Sinema opposes $3.5 trillion price tag for Democrats' sweeping social safety net bill

The Arizona Democrat said she will, however, vote in favor of the budget resolution that begins the legislative process.

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema said Wednesday she doesn't support a $3.5 trillion price tag on a major spending bill that Democrats are trying to pass on a party-line basis, a position that will likely force the White House to scale back its ambitions.

"I have told Senate leadership and President Biden that I support many of the goals in this proposal to continue creating jobs, growing American competitiveness, and expanding economic opportunities for Arizonans. I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion," the Arizona Democrat said in a statement.

She added that "in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration to strengthen Arizona's economy and help Arizona's everyday families get ahead."

Sinema's statement suggests that she will vote for the budget resolution to begin the process and instruct committees to craft legislation that can pass with only Democratic votes. In the evenly split Senate, it will require all 50 Democratic members to pass.

The so-called reconciliation bill, which can evade the 60-vote filibuster threshold, represents a centerpiece of President Joe Biden's agenda. Democrats are hoping to expand health care funding, subsidize community college, fund climate change measures, as well as provide care for elders and children.

It is the only viable way to pass Biden's proposed tax hikes on those making $400,000 and corporations, part of his effort to finance his larger safety net and reduce income inequality. Republicans are strongly opposed to any tax hikes.

Sinema's statement came on the same day that she helped ink a bipartisan infrastructure deal worth $550 billion in new spending with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and other senators. She met one day earlier with Biden at the White House.

The No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Thune, of South Dakota, said Sinema's statement could make it easier for GOP senators to vote for the infrastructure agreement.

"I think it helps," he told reporters. "It's helpful if our members believe that supporting this bipartisan package means that the overall cost in the debt and the taxes and everything else is going to be less in the end."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., applauded the statement from Sinema, telling Fox Business: "I was certainly pleased. She is very courageous."

But Sinema's statement, first reported by the Arizona Republic, drew immediate criticism from some progressives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who view $3.5 trillion as a compromise.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said he wants to pass the infrastructure measure and the budget resolution before the chamber leaves for a scheduled recess in August. The final bill is expected to be considered after the Senate returns in September.

Leigh Ann Caldwell, Julie Tsirkin and Frank Thorp V contributed.