John Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent.
If you had asked Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman or John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson or Jimmy Carter or even Bill Clinton what Democrats would defend in a fight over the future of government, there's no real question that funding for housing, public transportation, community development programs and safe air travel would be high on the list.
Yet, in order to achieve the Friday night deal that averted a government shutdown — for a week and, potentially, longer if an anticipated agreement is cobbled together and agreed to — all of those programs took serious hits.
The arrangement worked out Friday night averted the threatened shutdown with a two-step process. First, the House and Senate passed a one-week spending bill that addressed the immediate threat. That should give Congress and the White House time to finalize a fiscal 2011 spending deal — on which they have agreed in principle — before an April 15 deadline.
So who won the standoff? President Obama says the deal is good for the future, and that might make some Democrats think that he and the Democrats prevailed.
The one-week spending bill enacted by the House and Senate contains $2 billion in spending cuts to transportation, housing and community development programs.
A Senate Appropriations Committee review says that most of the $2 billion in cuts contained in the one-week bill come from a $1.5 billion slashing of the Federal Railroad Administration's High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program. More cuts are achieved by hacking $220 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Fund. And research into making air travel safer and more efficient took cuts as well.
In other words, precisely the sort of programs that Democrats used to defend were slashed.
The Senate agreed to the one-week plan by unanimous consent.
Seventy House members opposed the bill. Of those seventy "no" votes, forty-two came from Democrats. They did not want a shutdown, as some of the GOP "no" voters did. But the dissenting Democrats said the cuts went too far.
They were right.
And we will need a lot more FDR Democrats to prevent the broader deal from becoming the greatest triumph yet in the GOP campaign to end the New Deal and bend the arc of history against progress.