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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

Updated Sep 17, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on powering up clean energy jobs

On September 17th, Axios climate & energy reporter Andrew Freedman and energy reporter Ben Geman will spotlight the latest updates to the infrastructure bill and discuss what building a fair economy with quality clean energy jobs could look like, featuring Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and BlueGreen Alliance executive director Jason Walsh.

John Frank, author of Denver
Sep 17, 2021 - Axios Denver

Colorado Republicans want to cancel 2022 primary vote

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A majority of the Colorado GOP's governing committee is expected to vote Saturday to cancel next year's Republican primaries and opt for an internal process to pick candidates in the 2022 election.

Why it matters: The move would prevent 1.8 million unaffiliated voters — a plurality of those registered in Colorado — from casting ballots in the Republican primary elections next year.

Updated 1 hour ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.