Washington — Even under the stress of an election year, Congress is proving that conservatives who want to hold back on government spending are in the driver's seat.
True, the federal budget just passed by the House and the one passed earlier by the Senate skirt the issue of social security, which spirals upward by $20 billion a year. And some in the House doubt that Congress will squeeze out the medicare savings it promises.
But a clear voice has rejected Democratic proposals that would have cost and taxed more. The voice does not sound as emphatic as last year's call for a ''Reagan revolution'' to turn back the historic tide of big government. Still, the theme is the same. ''Tax, tax, tax. Tax and spend,'' went the refrain conservatives hurled at the Democratic proposal. The Democrats would have added money for jobs, medicare, and unemployment benefits.
The House Republican budget victory June 10 firmly establishes the fact that House Democrats, with their liberal leadership, hold the majority in name only. They are too divided; the Republicans too united.
Once again the minority Republicans proved they hang together in a crunch. Only three GOP members strayed to the Democratic budget proposal. Democrats voted all over the field. Forty-six Democrats, including 30 members of the conservative ''boll weevil'' group, voted for the Republican budget plan.
House Budget Committee chairman James R. Jones (D) of Oklahoma concedes the Democrats can pass few proposals and ''without crossover votes, it's virtually impossible.''
Democrats are wasting few tears over their loss, however. They had expected it and seemed to invite it. During the past week they tacked on a laundry list of domestic programs to their own budget proposal, although they knew that the House's conservative majority wanted to reduce the government's red ink.
Now that the Republicans have won with a less generous spending plan, the Democrats have an ideal platform for the November congressional elections.
And they have wasted no time in using it. Only minutes after final passage of the Republican budget plan by a vote of 219 to 206, an aide to House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D) of Massachusetts appeared in the press gallery. The aide, Christopher Matthews, poured out charges against the ''so-called progressive'' Republicans from the Midwest and Northeast.
''These people represent Democratic constituencies,'' said Mr. Matthews, adding that they will be targets in the November elections. ''They walked near lockstep. They got their signals from the President.''
Nearly all of the ''gypsy moth'' Republicans voted no on both the Democratic and GOP versions. Many are running for reelection in districts hard hit by recession and unemployment. Democrats would like to win seats and rebuild a working majority. Their more generous spending proposals will be a major selling point.
The Democrats' plan now seems to be to make political hay of the budget and to thrust responsibility for a shaky economy on the Republicans.
In the flush of victory, House minority leader Robert H. Michel (R) of Illinois has been only too happy to accept that responsibility, even if he doubts that this budget will convince financial managers that Congress is ready to bite the bullet on spending. Initial response from Wall Street and the bond markets has been positive, however. By closing time, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 11.03 points.
The Republican leader conceded that he wishes the budget had tackled head-on the growth in entitlements - payments to individuals including social security - which account for about half of the federal dollars.
However, the Republican budget does save $7.4 billion in entitlement by freezing medicaid and food stamps and making new cuts in welfare and nutrition aid. Medicare, which gives medical aid to the elderly regardless of income level , also would be reduced by $3.2 billion.
That start faces a difficult test this week as a joint House and Senate conference meets to iron out the differences between their two budgets.
The House version projects spending of $779.3 billion and a deficit of $99.3 billion. A less austere Senate version calls for a spending level of $784 billion and a $116 billion deficit in fiscal year 1983. Both houses would have to approve a compromise before the final budget resolution can be passed.