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Responsive Congress

Congressmen are elected, too. And in 1984 members of the legislative branch seem likely to benefit at the polls from the perception that they have done reasonably well at supporting the President and at the same time challenging and modifying his initiatives.

We agree with this perception.

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People sometimes forget there are three branches of government overseeing the affairs of the state. While the presidential contest and the party conventions have dominated media attention, congressmen have been back in their districts attending county fairs, speaking at luncheons, soaking up the attitudes of constituents, arguing a little, but mostly listening.

Judging by how little change is anticipated in the ranks of the House of Representatives and the Senate after the election - a 5 or 10 seat swing either way in the House, a 2 or 3 seat GOP loss in the Senate - Americans seem fairly satisfied with their local representatives.

So most congressmen are returning to Washington this week feeling pretty good about their own prospects for reelection.

They look back at a year when they passed a $53 billion ''down payment'' on deficit reductions, despite pessimistic assumptions they would do nothing at all. The week the House spent debating the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill was an example of the policy process at its best.

They admit to some frustration, however, that the public does not seem as concerned about the deficit issue as Washington is; without greater public commitment, revenue action next year might prove elusive. And whatever the parliamentary merits of the immigration debate, except for a relatively few Hispanic Americans the public at large does not all that much care - hardly helpful guidance for settling the issue this session.

Congress has acted responsibly most of the time in foreign and defense policy too. President Reagan has largely gotten his way - but not without limits from Congress on the timing and scope of administration plans, especially in such areas as Lebanon and Central America.

Defense spending is the big issue in the remaining weeks before the Oct. 4 election-recess target. The President holds the key here. He can force Congress to return for a lame-duck session after the election. The first budget resolution is still stuck in a House-Senate conference. Senate conferees, holding out for President Reagan's higher defense spending target, will not meet with the House members. A continuing resolution would peg defense spending at a lower level than the President wants: hence, the likelihood of a lame-duck session.

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Beginning next week the House Ways and Means committee will hold hearings on a wide variety of trade bills. Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D) of Illinois was not eager to report out the fair trade and steel bill, the so-called quota bill, so he has opened the discussion up more broadly. This could be a very important session.

The word from the folks back home, say returning congressmen like Ohio Democrat Don Pease, former editor of the Oberlin News-Tribune, is mostly about their private economic concerns - the difficulty in finding new jobs, especially for older workers, the glitches in training programs, government assistance programs.

The campaign has not yet focused on national issues. Presidential and vice-presidential debates have not been scheduled. Things do happen during a campaign; after all, that's what campaigns are supposed to be about. But by and large, congressmen seem likely to benefit from the same overall satisfaction with governance that gives Ronald Reagan his advantage as the fall campaign commences.

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