Biden is in San Francisco for a series of meetings this week as Congress works to avoid a government shutdown on Friday. While a continuing resolution through at least January is looking like a likely solution, at some point, Biden will have to find points of agreement with House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA).
“House Republicans had an opportunity to engage in a productive, bipartisan appropriations process, but instead are wasting time with partisan bills that cut domestic spending to levels well below the Fiscal Responsibility Act agreement and endanger critical services for the American people,” Biden’s Office of Management and Budget said in threatening to veto a pair of GOP-led appropriations bills.
Funding the government via regular appropriations bills rather than massive end-of-year omnibus legislation is a top priority for hard-line House Republicans. Johnson, still in his first month as speaker, needed the help of Democrats on Tuesday to pass a two-part continuing resolution to fund certain parts of the government until Jan. 19 and the rest until Feb. 2, at which point he’ll press the appropriations issue in the presidential election year.
Johnson has been called “MAGA Mike” by everyone from former President Donald Trump and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) to former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile and Biden’s 2024 reelection campaign. The Biden White House loves to use “MAGA” as a pejorative, unleashing the term “ultra-MAGA” for the 2022 midterm elections following a six-month study by Democratic messaging guru Anita Dunn.
For his part, Johnson is leaning into his loyalty to the GOP front-runner, saying he’s “all in” for Trump in 2024.
“I have endorsed him wholeheartedly,” Johnson said on CNBC.
Johnson described himself as one of Trump’s closest allies and added that “we have to make Biden a one-term president.”
So how can the two cooperate?
Assuming a continuing resolution passes this week, things will get rocky next year, argues Colby College professor emeritus Sandy Maisel.
“There’s going to be a showdown in January, and it won’t just be between Biden and Johnson. It’s between Johnson and the right wing of the Republican Party,” Maisel said. “If Johnson gives in the same way that [former Speaker Kevin] McCarthy [R-CA] gave in to making a compromise, he could lose his speakership. So that’s what he’s facing.”
A key factor, Maisel adds, is that Johnson is an unknown, having been a “backbencher” with few enemies before. Things will be much different when he’s steering the ship early next year.
“Recent history shows that when the government shuts down over cutting government expenditures, the party that causes it to shut down is the one that suffers,” he said. “I think Biden sees that too, and he’s going to hold out [in January]. He’s not going to give in to the Republicans on this.”
If Johnson pushes hard for appropriations bills when 2024 arrives, the White House should have its talking points sharpened from previous funding showdowns, such as the late spring debt ceiling battle when both parties worked to blame the other for any problems before they happened. McCarthy ended up being jettisoned over the last shutdown battle, leaving Johnson as a fresh combatant entering the ring.
Democratic strategist Stefan Hankin says Biden is buttressed by the fact that any spending bills would need to get through the Democratic-controlled Senate before reaching his desk, making it easier to issue early veto threats and ensuring that anything he does sign enjoys a measure of bipartisan support.
“The veto threats are much more about setting some guardrails, knowing full well that any appropriations bills that did pass the House wouldn’t get through the Senate,” Hankin said.
The optics of actually closing large portions of the government would be overwhelmingly negative for each side, Hankin says, which may provide hope that Biden and “MAGA Mike” can work out their differences now and next year.