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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

If a bipartisan group of lawmakers fails to strike a deal on the infrastructure proposal it's negotiating with the White House, ramming through a package using the partisan reconciliation process isn't a guaranteed solution.

Why it matters: Getting 51 Democratic votes would be a long, uphill battle. And moderates within the party are balking at the cost of President Biden's spending — even as progressives openly lament that the "transformational" change they seek is slipping out of reach.

  • "An infrastructure package that goes light on climate and clean energy should not count on every Democratic vote," Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) tweeted Wednesday.

Between the lines: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said a reconciliation bill should include both Biden’s American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan.

  • As of now, they carry a combined price tag of nearly $4 trillion.
  • Even if the bipartisan "G20" group of 20 lawmakers — or a splinter group of 10 senators who announced a deal Thursday — succeed in finalizing an agreement on the traditional infrastructure portion (most of which is in the Jobs Plan), Democrats insist they'll try to pass the rest (the Families Plan) via reconciliation.
  • As of now, it's unclear if party moderates will support that two-step.

Driving the news: Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have taken most of the heat for opposing parts of Biden's bill, but several other Democrats also are wary of certain provisions — most notably its steep price tag.

  • Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told Axios he hasn't decided on his "upper limit" on spending but said, "There's definitely room for negotiation."
  • “I think it's high,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) told Axios. “But I'm not prepared to say where I want to change it.”
  • "The price tag is very negotiable. We'll see what we do bipartisan and then we can adjust the price," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

The intrigue: An intra-party dispute would create a whole new host of problems for Biden.

  • Rather than blaming Republicans if a package collapses, he'd be forced to haggle with members of his own party and accept some blame if they don't come on board.
  • Already, some Democratic senators are venting in the open.
  • Their vision of remaking America with a once-in-a-generation infrastructure, climate and social services package is colliding with the cold, hard reality of a razor-thin Senate majority and the divisions within their own party.

What they're saying: "Just a gentle, friendly reminder that the executive branch doesn't write the bills," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted.

  • He was responding to a Politico report citing Biden climate adviser Gina McCarthy, who said "ambitious proposals to fight climate change could fall out of the infrastructure package."
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) also sounded the alarm last week: "I’m now officially very anxious about climate legislation."

The bottom line: "At the end of the day, the reality of a 50-50 Senate is we have to have all 50 Democrats supporting the package we move," Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told Axios.

  • "Some of my colleagues may not be as excited, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there," he said — no pun intended.

Go deeper

Pelosi's back-to-school math problem

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) may need votes from an unlikely source — the Republican Party — if she hopes to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill by next Monday, as she's promised Democratic centrists.

Why it matters: With at least 20 progressives threatening to vote against the $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill, centrist members are banking on more than 10 Republicans to approve the bill.

Updated Sep 17, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on powering up clean energy jobs

On Friday, September 17, Axios Climate & Energy reporter Andrew Freedman and Energy reporter Ben Geman hosted a virtual conversation on what building a fair economy with quality clean energy jobs could look like, featuring The Honorable Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and BlueGreen Alliance executive director Jason Walsh.

Sen. Alex Padilla explained how the infrastructure bill puts forth investments toward the environment, the urgency of acting on climate change at a legislative level, and how recent climate emergencies have underscored that urgency. 

  • In response to questions about climate investments in the infrastructure bill: “We need to act with urgency, we need to act boldly, that’s half the equation. It’s okay to have questions on what the price tag is, but of equal importance is knowing that we’re doing this in a fiscally responsible way.” 
  • On garnering necessary bipartisan support for the infrastructure bill to pass: “I do believe we’re going to get to yes at the end of the day, and that end of the day is going to be in the weeks ahead, not the months ahead, because of the urgency that I just laid out.” 

Jason Walsh highlighted the important intersection between climate action and clean energy jobs, the challenges of creating high-quality jobs in the power sector, and how budget reconciliation would help to meet clean energy job goals. 

  • On addressing crises relating to job creation, economic and racial inequality, and the climate emergency: “We have the ability with budget reconciliation to advance solutions to these crises that are as mutually reinforcing and intersecting as their causes. We feel like we can’t afford not to take advantage of this opportunity.”
  • On why budget reconciliation must address the lack of high-quality clean energy jobs: “Not enough of the clean energy jobs that have been created are high quality and union. They have not been created at scale in some of the communities and parts of the country that need them the most, and the lived experience of workers dislocated from incumbent industries, coal mining and power plants, doesn’t meet any reasonable standard of fairness and justice.”

Thank you Bank of America for sponsoring this event.

First look: Conservatives' 2022 big target: Tax increases

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Conservative groups are unveiling huge ad-buys going after vulnerable House Democrats over tax increases and other revenue measures in their party's massive infrastructure spending bill, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: President Biden and Democrats have an immense amount of political capital riding on a $3.5 trillion bill facing razor-thin margins in both chambers. Conservatives are running ads targeting the House members who leaders will need to pass the measure.