Democrats and Republicans in Washington spent the week after their separate announcements of a "bipartisan" budget accord arguing about what they really agreed to and trying to claim credit for the plan.
But even as the two sides seemed to drift further apart on some parts of the deal, Republicans began the process of pushing the budget plan through Congress.
According to GOP leaders, House and Senate budget committees will begin work on what is now only a budget outline this week. They hope to have the deal on the president's desk by Memorial Day.
There were signs last week, however, that criticism of the plan was beginning to grow, as was the partisanship.
Republicans said the budget deal fulfilled the "Contract With America" and contained much of what the GOP sought in its own balanced-budget plan that passed Congress in 1995.
Democrats said just the opposite. The new budget deal, they argued, contained much less in entitlement cuts and more in spending for children's healthcare and education than the 1995 GOP budget plan (See related story, p. 16).
The two sides sparred over a number of other substantive issues, including several Medicare- and Medicaid-related details.
A typical example of the misunderstandings between the two sides is a dispute that flared over what changes were agreed to in the Specified Low Income Medicare Beneficiaries program.
Under the program, Medicaid pays the Medicare Part B premiums for low-income beneficiaries.
Democrats said that under the deal, the earnings threshold for the subsidy program had been raised to 150% of the federal poverty level from 120%. The increased subsidy was needed, the Democrats argued, to offset the increases in Medicare Part B premiums that would occur because negotiators also agreed to shift nearly $90 billion in home healthcare costs from Part A to Part B.
But Republicans said the two sides actually agreed to a much smaller expansion of the program. They said the agreement calls for beneficiaries who earn up to 150% of the poverty level to be spared only the increases in the Part B premium that occurred as a result of the home healthcare spending shift.
Representatives from both sides met last week to resolve the issue, but they appeared to be far apart.
Other areas of disagreement include the reinstatement of Medicaid and welfare benefits to some legal immigrants, whether children's care initiatives in the plan will be a new entitlement or a block grant to the states, and a host of tax issues.
With Jonathan Gardner