House Democrats got the 102nd Congress off to an outrageous start by reneging on an essential provision of the five-year budget control plan. Why one party in one chamber thinks it has the right to sabotage an agreement laboriously negotiated by both parties in both houses is a matter that ought to concern all voters. It underscores the danger of giving the Democrats what amounts to a permanent majority on Capitol Hill.
That House Republicans responded in a ham-handed way, muddying the issue by trotting out their perennial balanced-budget amendment, in no way lets the Democratic leadership off the hook. Speaker Tom Foley has to decide whether he wants continuous acrimony over budget matters. He has to decide whether it is worth it to placate powerful committee chairmen at the cost of any chance at bipartisan harmony.
What is at issue is as important as it is arcane. Under the 1990 budget agreement, the White House Office of Management and Budget was given authority to estimate the budget impact of entitlement spending and tax bills. This is a grant of real power because under the agreement any deficit increases caused by new legislation have to be offset to make the result budget neutral. It is in line with the Supreme Court's Gramm-Rudman decision that the implementation of budget adjustments must be under executive branch control.