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Sputtering finish

Unfortunately, there is more than enough untidiness to go around for everyone involved in the way Congress dealt with key economic issues this session. The Washington political establishment - and that means Congress and the White House - need to get their act together in shaping and enacting the nation's basic spending measures.

Congress finally passed a stopgap $370 billion spending bill for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. But the measure was enacted, it should be stressed, because lawmakers had managed to pass only five of 13 required appropriations bills.

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Along the way, lawmakers also managed to leave behind a number of unresolved social and political issues: immigration reform, ratification of a 35-year-old genocide treaty, an important civil rights measure, and reauthorization of the Superfund for cleanup of hazardous waste.

In fairness, the session was not totally unproductive. Congress approved measures relating to bankruptcy reform, drunken driving, cigarette health warnings, missing children, cable television, and crime. Most important, it enacted a major budget-cut tax-hike ''down payment'' package to hold down federal budget deficits.

It is precisely because lawmakers did so well on the deficit down-payment package - and that action is to be praised - that the messiness regarding funding bills becomes all the more pronounced. The White House, for its part, submitted a budget that many economists felt was built on questionable economic assumptions. And the White House dug in its heels on military spending. Congress , for its part, barely met, or in too many cases, failed to meet, its mandated budget deadlines.

Election year or not, the public deserves better.

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