THE DEMOCRATS started the year with great fanfare. In control of the Senate again as well as the Housel they were going to prove to the country they knew how to govern. What they're well on their way to proving instead is that they cannot even produce the budget resolution, which is a plan for government. The entire year's work awaits agreement on this document. It is the pattern according to which`the two houses`will then`produce a tax increase, defense bill,`the appropriations bills, and to which they will tailor the year's domestic legislation -- welfare reform, for example. But conferees have now spent a month on work that should have taken a`day. They are divided much less by substance than by stubbornness. If they continue to bungle the work as they have so far, these would-be leaders of the republic will be hooted off stage -- and not even their mothers may mourn.
Both houses of the proud new Congress got early starts on the budget. The House passed its version in April, the Senate its similar version in early May. Both rejected the Gramm-Rudman deficit target for next fiscal year as unrealistic; as everyone understands by now, the only ways to reach it are either to cook the books or to cause a recession. The Democrats also rejected the popcorn in the budget sent up by President Reagan, who did reach the Gramm-Rudman target, but only by puffy economic assumptions, ridiculous domestic spending cuts and a national flea market in asset sales.
The president said you could do it all with neither a tax cut nor a halt to the defense buildup. The Democrats, knowing better, proposed a modest tax increase and restraint in both defense and domestic spending. The House proposed a standstill defense budget, no more next year than this. The Senate found some extra money by manipulating rural electrification loans and proposed that defense be allowed to rise with inflation.
In terms of outlays -- actual spending -- the two houses were about $9 billion or three percentage points apart on defense for next year, the House at $282 billion, the Senate at $291 billion. The House budget seemed a little tight to us, the Senate version a little more than the current market can bear. The House most recently proposed to split the difference. The Senate balked.
Yes, there is a question here: Where do the Democrats stand on defense? There are more in the Senate who want to preserve the Reagan buildup, more in the House who are willing to let it recede a little, which means to use defense as a piggy bank again. But surely these are reconcilable differences. If they aren't, if the Flubbocrats can't govern, put them back on the bench.