THE BUDGET vaudeville goes on. The Senate Finance Committee has reported out its version of the $9 billion tax increase on which administration and congressional negotiators so solemnly agreed two weeks ago. The bill smacks of the beer ad: tastes great and less filling. A sixth of the increase is not real. It would be achieved by moving up collection dates so about $1.6 billion of next fiscal year's revenue would reach the Treasury this year instead. But because it kept this fanciful item in the bill, the committee was able to meet its revenue quota yet leave some grittier items out. Thus, at the administration's behest, it dropped from an earlier version a provision to take an $800 million tax break away from defense contractors. (They get paid as a contract goes along, but can defer some taxes until it is over.)

Not all of the bill is unheroic. Some business loopholes of medium size and outrage would be closed. The committee also stood up firmly to the short-pants-and-pup-tent crowd: no longer would the child-care credit help pay the cost of sending kids to summer camp. Day camps would be okay, but not the overnight variety. That's Solomonic social policy, and we're for it. But it isn't exactly a first-strike weapon for dealing with a $175 billion budget deficit.

So the tax bill is pups and kittens, and a little mange. There are wobbly spots on the spending side as well. The budget agreement called for a savings of several hundred million dollars in "personnel reforms." How to do that without inflicting pain in this Christmas season? Someone had a marvelous idea. When the postal service was made independent some years ago, it was agreed that certain pension costs which derived from its days as a government agency would continue to be borne in the budget. Why not shift some of these to the service and let the service pay for them by raising the price of a stamp? How better to lick the deficit? Here, to its credit, it was the administration that said no. Budget Director James Miller said he wouldn't "score" the savings. That's budget talk for "This is too big a whopper even for the budget. Try again." And you can bet they will.