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As Senate moves forward, it's now up to Democrats to sell massive reconciliation bill

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House on Aug. 6, 2021.
President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House on Aug. 6, 2021.Win McNamee / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Senate is poised to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill this morning. But the hard part is just beginning.

The decision by President Biden and Democratic leaders to go for a two-track approach has its upsides — it greased the wheels for bipartisan legislation and allowed Democrats the chance to get one more bite at the apple to pass wish-list items without relying on GOP votes.

Now the ball is in the Democrats' court. If they can deliver the votes in the House and Senate (assuming the Senate vote passes today), both bills will become law.

But the downside is there's already a growing standoff between moderates and progressives, with both factions enjoying significant leverage thanks to slim Democratic margins in both houses. Just one senator, or just a small handful of House members, can threaten to sink everything.

The bipartisan infrastructure deal is everything moderates and swing-seat Democrats want. It's popular, it delivers goodies to their states and districts, it has Republican support and it doesn't touch on thorny issues that might upset swing voters, donors or interest groups. Put simply, it’s an easier sell.

The problem is, it doesn't have the parts of President Biden's agenda that progressives care about the most: Trillions of dollars in investments in health, education, caregiving, housing and especially climate (more on that below), as well as tax hikes on the rich and corporations to pay for it. That’s where the reconciliation bill comes in and why the forthcoming battles over the bill are so important, both in the halls of Congress and in the court of public opinion.

Right now, the most well-known part of the Democrats’ plan is the price — Republicans are framing it as a costly, progressive grab bag, while Democratic moderates are already balking at the $3.5 trillion price tag.

If the debate about the bill remains about the price tag and how it is aimed at mollifying progressives, Democrats will have lost the messaging fight. That won’t bode well in a midterm year that’s already expected to be tough sledding for them (hello ObamaCare).

But if Democrats can get buy in from the public on the substance of the bill — an expanded child tax credit, universal pre-K, more Medicare coverage and things like that — then they’ll be on far more stable ground.

Talking policy with Benjy: Climate convergence

Two of the biggest stories this week are related: The release of a dire climate change report by the U.N., and the Democrats’ releasing their $3.5 trillion budget framework.

That’s because the bill may be the last major climate legislation for a long time. Democrats face tough odds to hold the House and Senate past 2022 and the Republican Party is a long way from endorsing large-scale action to address the issue. Here are a few key components that climate activists will be pushing to fill out in a final bill.

Clean electricity payment program: This is one of the top priorities for environmental advocates. It would set up a system to rapidly transition the power sector to clean energy by penalizing companies who lag behind and rewarding those who keep up. Solar and wind are booming and new breakthroughs could make the transition even easier, but the key here is speed. The White House's goal is to get to 80 percent clean energy by 2030.

Big tax incentives: The bill asks the Senate Finance Committee to come up with tax credits to encourage companies to build clean power, reduce emissions in transportation and manufacturing, and give consumers an incentive to make efficiency improvements to their house or buy an electric vehicle.

Climate border tax: The bill could reshape how the United States economy engages with the rest of the world on climate by imposing tariffs on goods from countries that aren’t keeping up with global environmental goals. Europe is looking at similar tariffs as well.

Civilian Climate Corps: While most of the action is in various carrots and sticks to encourage investments in green tech, there are some direct investments, like electrifying fleets of federal vehicles. Perhaps the one that’s received the most attention is the Civilian Climate Corps, a plan to hire thousands of workers to tackle various green projects.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

10.1 million: How many open jobs there were in America in June, even as millions remain unemployed.

1.3 million: The number of active-duty military personnel who must be vaccinated under the Pentagon’s plans for mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations.

157 feet: The decline in the water level at Lake Mead, a key reservoir upon which 25 million people rely for water, after years of drought.

36,046,354: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 204,637 more than yesterday.)

621,062: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 372 more than yesterday.)

351,933,175: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 532,245 since yesterday.)

50.2 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

61.1 percent: The share of all American adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

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ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

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