A word to lame ducks

Welcome back, Congress. Despite all of last week's feasting, there seem to be a few things left on your plate.

You know better than anyone what the publicized leftovers are: social security, military spending, jobs . . .

But could a friend mention a less tangible task (though one affecting all the others)?

It is a task that should be somewhat easier now that the elections are over and at least some of you are retiring and can do what you want.

It is to approach every matter in the spirit of what Ronald Reagan told his cabinet appointees even before they took office:

''We are to operate as if there is no next election. Decisions should be made on the basis of what is good for the nation, not their political ramifications.''

Political pressures, of course, can have a salutary effect on officeholders. If Congress didn't have to satisfy an electorate it might become as shiftless as Will Rogers always suspected. Like a newspaper that never got a boiling letter to the editor now and then.

Still the need to respond to a constituency has to be separated from the kind of political ramifications that were so shamelessly pursued by some of you during the recent campaign. Playing on fears about an opponent's position on social security, for example, is politics in a different sense from the politics of building a better social security mousetrap.

As elections analysts lament, during the campaign many of you let the issues go and turned yourselves over to media packagers. Some didn't even stand in front of the camera and talk so that voters could get at least a TV version of your presence and priorities. Instead you were sold like patent medicine by a plummy voice on the sound track, and viewers could be pardoned if snake oil came to mind.

No wonder there have been predictions of a wasted session - short on substance, long on logrolling - between your return to business today and the holiday recess.

Defy those predictions, friends. Show that a lame duck is not a cooked goose.

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