Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., discusses President Bush's 2006 budget during a news conference on Capitol Hill February 7, 2005. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
Last November the American people elected a Republican president and a Congress with larger Republican majorities in each house. The Republican agenda on money matters was clear: low taxes and restraints on spending. This week's budget battles were the first important test of whether the bigger Republican majorities could govern the way they promised to, in a philosophically consistent way. The results were mixed.
Congress kept spending increases in the new budget to 2.1 percent overall, which is the smallest increase in 8 years.
A small group of House Republicans forced some rules changes that should help enforce discipline on spending.
And by a 50-50 vote, the Senate defeated budget language that would have made it much harder to extend tax cuts.
On the other hand, in a setback to President Bush and the Republican leadership, Congress failed to make big cuts in Medicaid spending. Republican Senator Judd Gregg said this failure would "gut the only thing in this budget" that would enforce fiscal discipline, and he added, "It's being done by Republicans. You just have to ask yourself how they get up in the morning and look in the mirror."
Meanwhile, members of the House reverted to usual form when it came to spending on transportation projects near and dear to their hearts. By a vote of 417 to 9 they approved spending $284 billion on highway and other projects over the next six years, $28 billion more than the president proposed last year and $66 billion more than the last six-year highway bill.
"The Republicans have blown the doors off the bank with spending in the last four or five years. What kind of start are they off to in these early days of the session?"
"They are in a cosmic battle between the better and worst angels of their nature for the soul of the Republican party. On the side of the better angels are people like Congressman Mike Pence from Indiana and 24 other back benchers who insisted on a little sunlight in the budget stuffing process. On the side of the not-so-great angels, you have Don Young, who's trying to build on a $125 million bridge to nowhere in the middle of Alaska."
"In their defense, they've gotten off to a pretty good start in using their increased majorities. They've gotten class action reform, cutting down on frivolous lawsuits. They've gotten a bankruptcy bill passed that will help prevent affluent people from walking away from their debts and it looks like they might get drilling in Alaska."
"We have to remember they have a lot of sins to atone for in the last Congress, particularly prescription drug benefit and Medicare. We're talking about $7 trillion in new liabilities. This group of 25 in the House that succeeded in passing this modest budget restraint is the same group that fought unsuccessfully to prevent the Medicare entitlement from happening."