It's election time, and the living is far from easy on Capitol Hill. In the House and Senate chambers and hearing rooms, virtually every act becomes a bid to please constituents, or at least avoid displeasing too many.
Both parties are full participants in the biennial occurence that this year has brought a $1 billion jobs bill from the Democrats and, from the Republicans, a bold tax credit plan for parents who send children to private schools. Their supporters pushed these measures even while admitting privately that they will not become law this year.
''It's that time,'' shrugs a top Republican Senate aide.
At best such proposals will become part of the campaign for 468 House and Senate seats.
This week house Democrats are making what could be their most important contribution to that campaign by unveiling a series of major new policy statements.
Chastised for being in total disarray and severely weakened by their losses in 1980, Democrats in Congress have floundered during the Reagan administration. They have attacked Reaganomics as unfair and blamed the Republicans for the recession, but when news reporters asked Democratic House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D) of Massachusetts, ''Where is the Democratic alternative,'' they were told that it wasn't ready yet.
Now, just in time for fall elections, comes Rep. Timothy E. Wirth (D) of Colorado with an economic task force report, released Sunday, Sept. 19, that broadly outlines a program to ''rebuild'' America.
The Democratic recipe calls for one part conservatism (cut spending and balance the federal budget), one part traditional liberalism (spend more money for education, research, and repairing public works), and a dash of Japanese style development (set up national goals for industrial growth and encourage worker-management cooperation).
Democrats are happily pointing to the lineup of members who produced the study. They range from some of the most liberal to conservative Texans Kent Hance and Charles W. Stenholm, prominent ''boll weevils'' who helped give President Reagan his economic victories in the House.
A thoroughly political document, the 23-page Wirth report lays the responsibility for unemployment and high interest rates on the White House doorstep. But Wirth is also promising that his party will have 20 to 30 pieces of legislation ready by next January as remedies for the current economic woes.
The Democratic Caucus will release on Tuesday six more reports on crime, women, small business, environment, national defense, and housing.
The reports give the Democratic party at least the appearance of having its act together. More importantly, they could raise the level of congressional campaigning by providing the basis of a healthy Republican-Democratic debate on national issues.
Meanwhile, the legislative machinery continues to grind out election year proposals.
* On tuition tax credits, the Senate finance committee has approved a Reagan adminstration backed plan to give parents up to $300 in federal income tax credit for each child sent to a private school. The Senate panel did not decide how to pay for the program, estimated to cost $1.5 billion over three years. The committee brushed aside a ''luxury'' tax on furs, yachts, and expensive cars. Prospects for passage of the measure look slim.
* A $1 billion jobs bill, setting up 200,000 temporary public works jobs, won in the House, but the Senate's Republican leadership vigorously opposes it.
* Conservative Senator Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina, will be trying this week to attach a school prayer amendment to a must-pass bill to raise the national debt limit and permit the government to borrow money after Oct. 1. The Helms amendment would permit ''voluntary'' prayer in public buildings and strip federal courts of their authority to rule on the issue.
Although he lost in an earlier effort to add an antiabortion measure to the debt limit bill, Senator Helms could have more success with his prayer amendment. The proposal is widely seen as having strong support in grassroots America. However, the proposal faces a filibuster by senate liberals who object to its ''court-stripping'' language - provisions that would prohibit federal courts from reviewing abortion cases.
Such moves and others, including a major anticrime proposal that has just arrived from the White House, may appear to be transparent bids for votes. However, veteran US Rep. Richard Bolling (D) of Missouri observed in an interview late last week that they could mean more in the long run. ''A political bill this year may be the real bill of next year,'' he said.