ON THE budget deficit, the House Republicans have compiled a remarkable record of irresponsibility, and yesterday they managed to keep it alive. By voice vote theyadopted in conference a resolution repudiating the president -- they would say upholding his campaign promise -- and opposing all new "new taxes and . . . tax rate increases" to reduce the deficit.

These same legislators yield to no one in deploring the deficit. You might therefore think that somewhere along the way they would have advanced a list of spending cuts to square their goals of fiscal responsibility and no new taxes. You would be wrong.

To the contrary: beneath the cover of being opposed to a policy of tax and spend, they do every bit as well as the Democrats at bringing home the projects and not offending the interest groups that make campaign contributions and could put them at political risk.

Senate Republicans as a group have acted responsibly over the past 10 years, providing leadership, taking risks and trying to prod their presidents and the Democrats toward fiscal settlements. Not so the House brethren. House Republicans have regularly opposed the budget resolutions the governing Democrats must bring to the floor each year, and that is their right. But it turns out most years that they are opposed to all the alternatives as well. They make no proposal of their own; this year, as in the past, they would not vote on the president's budget, either. They practice the politics of no fingerprints.

The Democrats have properly warned that they are not going to be the heavies in the deficit reduction process, and that majorities of both parties as well as the president are going to have to put their names to whatever is produced at the budget summit. If the deficit-cutting is to be genuine, that product has to include a significant tax increase as well as spending cuts. That is the inescapable math lesson that the tripling of the national debt since 1980 teaches.

The deficit is an insidious drain on both the economy and the capacity to govern. The administration itself now concedes it is the foremost problem of national economic policy. For shallow political gain and without a principled alternative, the House Republicans now jeopardize the solution. These Republicans are always bewailing their seemingly semi-permanent minority status in the House. Their continuing flight from responsibility yesterday suggests the reason.