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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A mix of Beltway action and extreme weather events have brought the fault lines in infrastructure talks and their planetary stakes into sharper focus.

Catch up fast: Senate Democratic leaders pledged to seek big climate measures in a multitrillion-dollar, Democrats-only package that faces a very narrow political path.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group floated outlines of a smaller plan with some climate measures, but far short of what many Democrats want.

The big picture: It's an uncertain effort. Republicans oppose climate-related spending and tax breaks on the scale President Biden wants, while Democrats' tiny majority features diverging views among progressives and moderates.

Why it matters: Record western U.S. heat and drought offer reminders of global warming's march as scientists warn of a narrowing window to contain temperature's rise.

Democratic leaders, with midterms looming, may be facing their last shot for years at legislation that would pour unprecedented resources into slashing emissions.

Where it stands: Talks on both packages are proceeding and they're intertwined.

  • Some lawmakers fear that if a bipartisan bill moves, the reconciliation approach — that is, a Democratic package immune from filibuster — will wither.
  • The Hill reports key progressives won't support a bipartisan bill absent "ironclad" assurance on the substance of the reconciliation plan and that it has enough votes.
  • Rep. Ro Khanna, a progressive California Democrat, tells Andrew "there's a lot of anxiety" that climate provisions will be "sacrificed." He said the two plans would have to move in tandem to get progressive support in the narrowly divided House.
  • Meanwhile, Politico reports on moderate Democrats' concerns about plowing ahead with a multitrillion-dollar reconciliation package of infrastructure and social safety net improvements.

What they're saying: "[W]e interpret recent progress towards a reconciliation package as a further evidence that Democratic Party leadership has already substantially abandoned hopes of a bipartisan bargain," the research firm ClearView Energy Partners said in a note.

  • But the same analysis also offers reasons why a bipartisan path may yet emerge in the Senate.
  • One reason is that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a conservative Democrat and crucial vote, "might be able to better explain his support for party-line passage of a reconciliation bill if he voted for it after delivering a conventional infrastructure package on a bipartisan basis."

Here are two other things we're watching...

1. The global fallout from the talks. A deeply reported Bloomberg story this morning explores diplomatic fears critical United Nations climate talks late this year will fail to deliver strong results.

One stumbling block? The White House's power to make big commitments that need Capitol Hill sign-off.

2. The clean electricity standard (CES). Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's office did not list a CES when outlining his priorities for the reconciliation package.

  • A CES — which would force utilities to accelerate zero-carbon power deployment — has the potential to be an important climate tool but faces is a very steep uphill climb politically.

Go deeper

Sep 24, 2021 - Health

Manchin: "We need to stabilize" Medicare before expanding

Sen. Joe Manchin. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Thursday that Democrats "need to stabilize" Medicare before expanding the program, The Hill reports.

Why it matters: Progressives are hoping to expand Medicare through a broad social spending bill, which Democratic senators have urged Manchin to support. Manchin's vote is critical in passing any Democratic bill in the 50-50 Senate.

Updated Sep 23, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on investing in advanced climate tech

On Thursday, September 23rd, Axios business editor Dan Primack and Axios Today host Niala Boodhoo explored how alternative energy investments toward climate solutions function in the private and public sector today, featuring Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Galvanize Climate Solutions co-founder Tom Steyer.

Sen. Ron Wyden explained his support for overhauling the existing tax code to incentivize companies to reduce their emissions, his belief that all Americans should pay their fair share of taxes, and Congressional efforts to increase electric vehicle usage.

  • On his support for modifying the tax code: “One of the little secrets about the tax code is that many billionaires pay little or no income taxes. The way they do that is they don’t take a wage, and so Americans have read all these stories about prominent billionaires paying virtually nothing in the way of income taxes for years and years on end. I don’t think that’s right.”
  • On the future trajectory of electric vehicles: “Getting a critical mass of these electric vehicles on the road is going to bring down costs. It’s going to be good for the environment, good for marketplace forces, and the American economy.”

Tom Steyer highlighted the importance of cleaning up electricity generation across the country, how the climate tech investment landscape has changed over the last decade, and what areas of climate tech he believes need more attention and investment.

  • On the future of the infrastructure and reconciliation bills: “I believe that the Democratic Party will come to a negotiated place which will include very important climate regulations, climate initiatives, and that specifically they will be encouraging the move to clean electricity generation across the United States during this decade.”
  • On the need for more tangible innovations in climate tech: “It’s going to be incredibly important for us too to do well in the businesses like manufacturing, where you can touch the product. We have dominated the kinds of businesses like software that you can’t touch.”

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with HSBC’s Group Chief Sustainability Officer Celine Herweijer, who discussed how sustainability is moving to the forefront of many corporations’ long-term goals.

  • “We’ve committed to essentially have a net zero target across all of our finance commissions portfolio. So to be able to do that, that means fundamentally changing how we finance it, fundamentally changing our risk appetite, changing our culture, our policies, our processes of capability.”

Thank you HSBC for sponsoring this event.

Go deeper: Get smarter, faster on the growing field of climate tech with our free short course.

Tom Steyer: Private companies starting to invest more in climate solutions

Photo: Axios

The world will have to spend four trillion dollars a year to solve the climate crisis, Tom Steyer, the billionaire founder of Farallon Capital, said at an Axios virtual event on Thursday, but private businesses will play a crucial role.

Why it matters: Steyer's comments come two weeks after the billionaire launched Galvanize, a climate tech investment platform that will back companies from the seed-stage through private equity and project finance.