The Budget: Round 1 to George W.

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Florida Rep. Allen Boyd and other 'Blue Dog' Democrats speak on Capitol Hill

The House of Representatives on Thursday evening disposed of exactly what the President proposed and a little more, passing $958 billion in marginal rate reductions by a 230-198 margin, with 10 southern conservative Democrats and one independent joining every Republican in the chamber. As Majority Leader Dick Armey put it in his speech, "This, Mr. Speaker, is the least we can do."

The Democrats, attempting to send a message of courage to their Senate brethren, did everything they could to fight back. Centrist "Blue Dog" Democrats clogged up the process as best they could with procedural snags, protesting that all they wanted was to look at the budget as a whole. Liberals sounded the usual alarms about "the failed policies of the past" and offered an alternative version, which went down in a lightly attended vote in the late afternoon. And afterward, they complained that they'd been ignored.

"This tax cut bill, coming without a budget, is another 'my way or the highway' approach to legislating in this Congress," said Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. "My assessment after just a few weeks of this Congress is that bipartisanship is over." Could he have been miffed that Republicans threw a celebratory party — complete with balloons and a playing of "Taxman" — before the bill was even passed, so they could get it on the evening news? Or was he merely hurt that George W. Bush, for all his talk, has still not deigned to make the words "bipartisan consensus" more than a campaign slogan?

At least not when it comes to the House. Why bother? "I'm glad we moved it the way we did," Bush told House Speaker Dennis Hastert afterward by phone from Fargo, N.D. "It's a strong message to the American people that the members of the U.S. Congress have heard loud and clear that if we set priorities and watch our spending habits, that we can send some meaningful money back to the people."

In the Senate, even Republicans were acting as if they hadn't heard. Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Finance Committee that will draft the tax bill, waxed philosophical. "In the House of Representatives, the river starts out high in the mountains, very swift-flowing," he said. "As it reaches the Senate, we're a bit downstream. The river moves slower." Grassley predicted a tax bill will become law "before spring turns to summer."

By then, Bush's tax cut may be diluted quite a bit.