Keep the 98th Congress on course

With Congress resuming early next week - and some lawmakers now en route to Washington - it is timely for the American people to send a clear message to their elected representatives as well as the Reagan administration: Namely, it is vital that lawmakers resist the temptation to let political considerations in this pre-election year dictate the legislative agenda. Rather, the need is for lawmakers to carry on the affairs of the nation with a sense of mutual compromise and accord.

Is such a goal possible in a climate when contending political camps are gearing up for what may be a close and hard-fought presidential campaign? And when both houses of Congress are controlled by opposing political parties?

The answer will be evident in the next few weeks. But it should be pointed out that the current 98th Congress has already established a remarkable record of cooperation. Lawmakers have hammered out measures to improve the social security system, set up a $4.6 billion federal jobs program and, despite sharp differences, managed to approve a budget plan that included $12 billion in new taxes. President Reagan has signed over 60 bills this year and not yet used the veto on any major piece of legislation. So far so good.

Given this impressive track record there is no reason why lawmakers should not get through the remainder of the year with a sense of accomplishment. Indeed , they have already managed to be an exception to the rule that pre-election year Congresses tend to be marked by deadlock and squabble, especially when Congress and the White House are divided. One of the worst examples of such infighting occurred from 1930 to 1932, when the House was controlled by Democrats, the Senate was Republican, but just barely, and the Hoover White House was Republican. Surely the terrible political infighting of that period contributed to the duration of the economic depression of the 1930s.

The United States faces no similar crisis at this time. Yet the current economic challenge ought not to be taken lightly, with projected budget deficits helping to keep interest rates high and thus threatening continued recovery from the recession. Also, as one legislative analyst wisely notes, 1983 presents a ''window of opportunity'' for the enactment of necessary legislation - a window that will most likely slam shut next year as the campaigns get under way.

Among urgent priorities for lawmakers:

* Congress must vigorously enforce the budget plan already worked out by lawmakers. That means it must pass bills to raise the $12 billion in new taxes. And, assuming that not all the appropriations bills are passed, as has been the case for a number of years, Congress must adopt a continuing resolution to keep federal agencies operating.

In this regard, lawmakers must exercise financial restraint in passing appropriations measures. Democratic lawmakers need to avoid the urge to provoke a presidential veto - so that the White House can be tagged as ''insensitive.'' And the White House needs to avoid the urge to wield a veto to show that it is curbing ''budget-busting'' programs.

* Congress must move quickly to enact a new immigration reform measure. The Senate has already passed the Simpson-Mazzoli bill. The House should act as quickly as possible.

* Congress needs to weigh carefully administration requests for financial support for Central America. Should taxpayers be underwriting financial aid for covert activities in Nicaragua? The House has voted to cut off such covert aid to Nicaraguan rebels.

So, as lawmakers return to Washington, they have a full agenda. The spirit of bipartisanship may be severely challenged with an election ahead. But it will be essential if that agenda is to be dealt with - and the nation effectively served.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.