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GOP House Cleaning

NEWT GINGRICH'S deconstruction of the federal government began last week in the House of Representatives itself. His party announced several proposed changes in the way the House will conduct its business, aimed at cutting costs, simplifying, and opening the process to more scrutiny.

For example, the House will cut three committees, 25 subcommittees, one-third of its support staff (from 1,960 to 1,300), and funding for 28 caucuses. Among those groups whose funding will be cut is the 41-member black caucus. Its chairman, Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D) of Maryland, vowed that the move would not silence his group but turn them into ''pit bulls'' dogging the majority's every move. Ironically, by doing so, the caucus may only prove Mr. Gingrich's point: that special funding from taxpayers isn't n eeded for the caucus to work together and speak out effectively.

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Other planned reforms have such common-sense appeal they're likely to be supported by many Democrats as well as Republicans. Meetings and floor debates would be opened to public scrutiny, except for national security or a few other specified reasons. Remarks in the Congressional Record will go in as spoken on the floor, rather than as edited later, sometimes to save members embarrassment. Members will be required to actually show up in person for committee votes, with no more proxy voting allowed. Legis lation will be referred to only one committee, preventing situations like this fall's health-care circus, when three House committees drew up competing bills.

We lift a huzzah for the breath of fresh air these steps represent. It was perhaps too much to expect of the Democrats that after 40 years in power they would ever have roused themselves to make similar reforms.

One of the GOP proposals doesn't share in our applause. It would require a 60 percent majority in order for votes on tax increases to pass. The rule is bound to be popular with voters, of course: Who ever wants more taxes? But some experts doubt its legality. No such standard is spelled out in the Constitution. It would allow the Republican majority, 53 percent of members, to set a higher standard than a simple majority in order to discourage legislation it opposes.

We question whether such a ''supermajority'' rule will contribute to restraint and comity in the new session; it is more likely only to raise the level of hostility.

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