THREE UNITED States senators took to the floor last Thursday to castigate D.C. leaders and threaten the city's fiscal year 2000 budget with cuts and amendments when it reaches the full Senate. The attackers were Democrats.

Meanwhile, the GOP-dominated Senate Appropriations Committee, led by D.C. subcommittee chairman Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), approved the city's budget with relatively modest spending changes. With the exception of a cut in pay raises for the D.C. Council (which should be a D.C. voter prerogative), the committee's actions will be less disruptive to the city than proposals Democrats are expected to offer when the D.C. budget is debated on the floor.

The Senate committee endorsed most of the consensus budget approved by the mayor, council and financial control board. The committee also recommended that the city establish a 4 percent surplus fund balance in addition to a $150 million reserve fund. That strikes us as fiscally sound, especially if the city can use the excess for non-recurring expenses and debt reduction. Likewise, we think the committee's support of a $17 million federal payment for a resident tuition support program is an important boost for college- bound District students.

All bets are off, however, if Senate Democrats are successful in derailing the D.C. student tuition support program or in mandating changes in D.C. criminal law. Two senators, Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), are threatening such actions because they oppose the city's tax cuts. "The city council has decided that things are going so well in this city, when it comes to crime and schools, they have $59 million that they are going to give back to the residents in tax cuts," charged Sen. Durbin, who plans to oppose the tuition support plan. Said Sen. Dorgan, who intends to amend the criminal code, "They are going to give a tax cut, but they don't have enough money for prison cells to keep violent people [e.g., twice-convicted murderer Leo Gonzalez Wright] behind bars. Shame on those people. Shame on those people who make those judgments. The murder of a young woman [Wright's victim, Bettina Pruckmayr] and so many others are on their shoulders." D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton says she is shocked that "some of our friends" would attack the city's budget. So are many D.C. residents.