BOB DOLE'S inability to pick up 67 votes may or may not slow down the lurch to the right in Congress, led by Newt Gingrich. It doubtless rubs off negatively on Dole and his image as a leader. Indeed, it could damage his presidential prospects.
Further, this slim Democratic victory in the Senate may well embolden Democrats in both houses to put up a stronger resistance to what Mr. Gingrich calls a conservative revolution.
But this Senate vote was on the balanced-budget amendment, requiring two-thirds of both houses to pass. The real test now lies on whether GOP-promoted legislation, particularly that which is included in the Contract With America, will be stopped or slowed by the majority votes that the Democratic leadership must put together.
So as the smoke from this battle clears, the political scene in Washington remains much as it was before the scuffle. The initiative is still with the Republicans. And Gingrich still is leading a powerful charge from the right.
If one has any doubts about Gingrich's success in shaking things up in this Capital City, he should listen to the grudging praise for the Speaker from the chairman of the National Governors' Association - Howard Dean, Democrat of Vermont. Mr. Dean obviously is no fan of Gingrich's and says that the Georgian's Contract With America is ``more talk than substance.'' But, at the same time, he told the Monitor breakfast group that he credited Gingrich with getting Congress going again: ``Congress was dead in the water,'' before Gingrich took hold.
So, at least for the time being, Gingrich remains king of the Hill. He's on Page 1 of the papers daily; he's everywhere on television. The President keeps up his indefatigable pace and gets good coverage, but still must bow to Newt as today's political media star.
Gingrich is often compared to some of the old-time powers in the Congress - like Rayburn and Cannon and even Clay. But while he in no way resembles Franklin D. Roosevelt in appearance or in style or in background, the bumptious Georgian somewhat reminds me of the man from Hyde Park.
And why? Because FDR presided over a revolution in this country, and that is what Newt Gingrich is doing, too - if he remains successful in his legislative efforts.
Roosevelt started the massive infusion of federal government into the lives of all Americans. Now the Republicans, led by Gingrich, are seeking to take back that Washington involvement and return it to the states and localities.
So this Republican reach for radical change has turned Congress into a battleground. The main fight is over how to lower the deficit. The Republicans would do it mainly by cutting back on the social programs that the Democrats, beginning with Roosevelt, have put together over the years.
The Democrats resist, but not too hard. Don't forget that in the budget vote, a considerable number of Democratic senators voted with Republicans. So it wasn't a clear-cut, change-things-around Democratic victory.
Most Democrats in Congress seem to remain quite mindful of November's election and continue to tread carefully lest the voters punish them if they are seen as holding back the Republican tide.