Robert Novak

 No Democrat broke ranks on the Frist and Smith amendments. Every Democrat in both the House and Senate voted against their respective budget resolutions on final passage. The "no" votes by 12 House Republicans meant the budget passed by only a four-vote margin.

 GOP defections nearly lost the budget resolution itself on final Senate passage. Intense pressure was put on Sen. Susan Collins to abandon her fellow Maine Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe, to vote for the resolution. Collins was told it was important for her, as a standing committee chairman, to support the president and the majority leader. She did, and the resolution passed, 51 to 49. Had Collins broken ranks and made it a 50-50 vote, four other Republicans were ready to jump the wall and defeat the resolution.

 But to what purpose was it saved? Nobody is sure a Senate-House conference can produce a compromise package. House conferees will insist on taking at least a small first step toward cutting entitlements, but the same six or seven Republican senators who killed the Medicaid cuts will resist that. If, on the other hand, the conferees end up with something like the Senate version, said Judd Gregg, "I'm not sure that's anything worth keeping."

 The problem is the mindset of Gordon Smith in talking about needs of "the most vulnerable people in our society" trumping the need to control government spending. Gregg responded to his colleague with blunt language: "It is absolutely critical that this year we address the Medicaid issue and why it is not going to impact any children and why all this 'wearing your heart on the sleeve' language we heard around here is a large amount of puffery." But he couldn't find 49 other Republican senators who agreed with him.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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