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Election-year Congress acts on more-popular bills.

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As Congress breaks for the Republican National Convention, election-year pressures are reaching a peak on Capitol Hill. With only four weeks left on the legislative calendar after Labor Day, both parties are positioning themselves on issues before Election Day.

As a result, the lawmakers continue to leave some unpopular issues untouched, while moving on toxic waste and completing a bill to give religious groups access to school facilities. Democrats continued to hammer at Reagan policies in Central America, but granted the President much of the money he asked for El Salvador.

''It's been pretty much like we had predicted - that politics would reign supreme,'' said House minority leader Robert H. Michel (R) of Illinois in an interview just before the recess. He ticked off issues left unresolved, from natural-gas deregulation to an overdue rewrite of the Clean Air Act to criminal-law reform.

The one exception to the politicking was the immigration reform debate, said Representative Michel, calling it the ''best'' and least partisan of the session. But the mood has changed since the debate, and most observers, including Michel, consider the immigration bill dead for this session.

Some House Republicans have bitterly protested the domination by Democrats, especially by Speaker O'Neill. ''Some of us are concerned that the operation up there [in the House] has become extremely partisan, extremely political,'' Rep. Richard Cheney of Wyoming, chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, told reporters last week. He put the blame on the shoulders of O'Neill, citing his sometimes harsh personal criticisms of the President.

''There's a lack of any sense of restraint,'' Representative Cheney protested.

The Speaker dismisses charges that Congress is more partisan than in previous election years, saying that such statements come from members who have only been on Capitol Hill for two or four years.

Minority leader Michel expressed little surprise about the election-year mood.

''It's frustrating for the Speaker, who sees the President being able to fare so well'' in the public eye, Michel said. ''That's been so frustrating for Tip - that someone he sees as a Hollywood actor can in this serious business of legislation have such a command over the flow of events.''

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