Seven Days in January

TODAY is the seventh day of the new Republican Congress, and the deconstructors of the Washington bureaucracy are far from ready to rest.

The first week went about as well for new master of the House Newt Gingrich as he could have hoped. The Republican majority passed all of the House rules reforms that it promised in the ``Contract With America,'' getting unanimous support from within the party along with many votes from Democrats.

Upon taking up the gavel, Speaker Gingrich made a speech in which he generously gave credit to President Franklin Roosevelt and acknowledged that ``liberal Democrats'' brought about needed civil rights reforms.

Later, he and President Clinton had a friendly meeting in which they pledged goodwill and predicted a good deal of future cooperation. Mr. Gingrich even managed a couple of good whacks on the ``liberal press.'' He berated their skepticism that the cooperative attitude would last long, and he blasted CBS News for deciding to broadcast a ``whispered'' comment his mother made about Hillary Clinton in a taped interview.

It all adds up to just the impression Gingrich has sought: The new Congress is making impressive progress on its promised agenda.

But Republicans have also cemented in place another public impression: Washington is a bad buy. Politicians waste tax money on bureaucracy, red tape, and dead-end programs. Americans always get more bang for their tax buck at the state or local level.

A recent ABC News report from Knoxville, Tenn., quoted citizen after citizen in that city making this point: Dollars sent to Washington are mostly wasted. It then noted that research showed that the people of Knoxville pay about $1.5 billion in federal taxes, but receive about $3 billion in federal benefits.

The upcoming debates over a balanced-budget amendment, welfare reform, and Medicare (now that Mr. Gingrich has opened it up to review), will be enlightening. Americans will have a opportunity to learn more about what services the federal government provides and with what efficiency. Which programs will citizens be willing to cut or eliminate?

When the real budget numbers begin to emerge, will we find Social Security reform or holding down defense-spending increases -

both ``off limits'' in the GOP Contract - coming back on the table for discussion?

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