FOR THE FIRST time in years, a District of Columbia budget sailed through the Senate without attracting the usual assortment of barnacles and barbs that appear during floor debate. This time the city's $4.7 billion budget was unanimously approved with minimal wrangling. That was no accident. Key players, on and off Capitol Hill, made it possible.

Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the District, steered the budget bill through the full committee and the Senate floor. She made it look easier than it was. A number of harmful amendments were never pressed for a floor vote because of her quiet intervention. On occasion, and out of deference to the city, the senator was found discouraging amendments, such as school vouchers, that she personally favored.

However, it took the combined efforts of the White House and other Democrats to persuade Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), ranking Democrat on the D.C. Appropriations subcommittee, not to seek a floor vote on his amendment to eliminate funding for the college tuition program. The $17 million program would make college more affordable for high school graduates living in the District; it has been strongly urged on Congress by Post publisher Donald E. Graham. The tuition program was not Sen. Durbin's real target. He and other Democrats were upset by D.C. Council-initiated cuts in personal and business tax rates, which they feared would soak up funds for crime-fighting and social services. In fact, the tax-cut proposal before the Senate was (thanks to the mayor and financial control board) more fiscally responsible than the original package introduced in the council. Sen. Durbin need not have worried.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Anthony Williams, who both enjoy credibility on Capitol Hill, helped the bill's progress with their "hands-off D.C." message to individual senators. Republican D.C. Council member David Catania wrote Republican senators stressing his co-authorship of tax cuts and his support for school vouchers -- but also his opposition to all floor amendments. His letter may have helped convince his party that harming the District's budget would mean injuring one of the GOP's own. The city should be so fortunate in the House.