Q:When you were writing "House Out of Order" (Bolling's 1965 book calling for reforms of the House, many of which were adopted in the 1970s), you portrayed the House as a chaotic place. Has it changed since then?

A: It has changed, but not enough in my judgment. The not enough is that we had the perverse line of reform that resulted in the enormous increase in the subcommittees. . . .(That was) the Burton line (Rep. Phil Burton of California), (which) was pass the action around and have more and more subcommittees, which I just think is a disaster....

3 Q:10 2 So it is still chaotic and inefficient, ineffective?

A:: Oh, absolutely. . . . So strangely enough, I am leaving right at a time when I know there has to be major reform.

Q: Why?

A: Simply because everybody, more and more people are coming to understand that the Congress doesn't work.

Q: But this . . . works pretty well, doesn't it?

A: Doesn't work at all, not from the point of view of either the issues or the individual members.

You're gonna have a major fight, whether it surfaces or not, over the survival of the budget committee, and unless the legislative process is modified or modernized so that everybody feels that they have a real role other than just voting on a budget resolution, they aren't going to stay. I mean, they aren't going to put up with it.

Q: Did Ronald Reagan humiliate the House in 1981?

A: I don't think Ronald Reagan humiliated the House; he tried very hard to humiliate the speaker, and the House humiliated itself.

Q: How?

A: Because the Democrats ran. They were running and they did run and I -- you know, I don't want to remind them of the fact, because now they're not running,

Q: What about that spectacle of the Ways and Means majority trying to bid against Ronald Reagan for the support of corporate...

Well, it was an outrage. It was an outrage. You see, I don't want to be in my I-told-you-so role. I fought, bled and died, day in and day out, on that one. And I had one convert, and he couldn't do anything either. And that was the speaker. And we went through that and we made quite a remarkable recovery this year. I don't know whether anybody noticed it, but we made quite a remarkable recovery, which wasn't an accident.

Q: In what sense?

A: Well, in the sense that we exploited the very strong reaction that came from the Republican Senate.

Q: And that's what you call the recovery of the Democrats?

A: Don't you think $99 billion is worth having back in three years? (Bolling is referring to the three-year tax increase passed by Congress this year in a bill originally offered by Sen. Robert Dole, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.)

Q: But what you're saying is that the Democrats agreed to go three steps backward with Reagan and then, since they took one step forward with the Dole bill, that's a great recovery?

A: Don't you consider that a recovery? If three steps backwards is near death and you make one third back and you're not near death anymore?

Q: What about the notion more fundamentally that the progressive tradition is in danger 'There's a Possibility Of a Democratic Landslide -- a Possibility'

Richard Bolling, 66, chairman of the House Rules Committee, is retiring at the end of this year after 34 years in Congress. Bolling, a Missouri Democrat, began his House career as a prot,eg,e of Speaker Sam Rayburn, who thought Bolling would make a good speaker himself one day. Bolling did win the admiration of his colleagues for his brilliance, but he never won their votes for the speakership.

Many House Democrats urged Bolling not to retire this year, but he was determined not to become one of the congressmen who hang onto office too long. Next year he will become the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Professor of Political Science at Boston College. He plans to write a book proposing far-reaching reforms of the American political system.

Q:When you were writing "House Out of Order" (Bolling's 1965 book calling for reforms of the House, many of which were adopted in the 1970s), you portrayed the House as a chaotic place. Has it changed since then?

A: It has changed, but not enough in my judgment. The not enough is that we had the perverse line of reform that resulted in the enormous increase in the subcommittees. . . .(That was) the Burton line (Rep. Phil Burton of California), (which) was pass the action around and have more and more subcommittees, which I just think is a disaster....

3 Q:10 2 So it is still chaotic and inefficient, ineffective?

A:: Oh, absolutely. . . . So strangely enough, I am leaving right at a time when I know there has to be major reform.

Q: Why?

A: Simply because everybody, more and more people are coming to understand that the Congress doesn't work.

Q: But this . . . works pretty well, doesn't it?

A: Doesn't work at all, not from the point of view of either the issues or the individual members.

You're gonna have a major fight, whether it surfaces or not, over the survival of the budget committee, and unless the legislative process is modified or modernized so that everybody feels that they have a real role other than just voting on a budget resolution, they aren't going to stay. I mean, they aren't going to put up with it.

Q: Did Ronald Reagan humiliate the House in 1981?

A: I don't think Ronald Reagan humiliated the House; he tried very hard to humiliate the speaker, and the House humiliated itself.

Q: How?

A: Because the Democrats ran. They were running and they did run and I -- you know, I don't want to remind them of the fact, because now they're not running,

Q: What about that spectacle of the Ways and Means majority trying to bid against Ronald Reagan for the support of corporate...

2 A:10 2 Well, it was an outrage. It was an outrage. You see, I don't want to be in my I-told-you-so role. I fought, bled and died, day in and day out, on that one. And I had one convert, and he couldn't do anything either. And that was the speaker. And we went through that and we made quite a remarkable recovery this year. I don't know whether anybody noticed it, but we made quite a remarkable recovery, which wasn't an accident.

Q: In what sense?

A: Well, in the sense that we exploited the very strong reaction that came from the Republican Senate.

Q: And that's what you call the recovery of the Democrats?

A: Don't you think $99 billion is worth having back in three years? (Bolling is referring to the three-year tax increase passed by Congress this year in a bill originally offered by Sen. Robert Dole, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.)

Q: But what you're saying is that the Democrats agreed to go three steps backward with Reagan and then, since they took one step forward with the Dole bill, that's a great recovery?

A: Don't you consider that a recovery? If three steps backwards is near death and you make one third back and you're not near death anymore?

Q: What about the notion more fundamentally that the progressive tradition is in danger of being lost in American life?

A: It just simply isn't. It just simply isn't. We're going to have an election, unlike, I think, any one that most people have seen.

There is a possibility of a (Democratic) landslide -- a possibility. It's a narrow possibility. Let's just take one thing. Right now there's an enormous shift in labor rank and file and where they're going to vote. At the same time there's a counter-curve that you have to take into account that they're not very happy with the Democrats, but they are happy enough so there's an enormous shift against the Republicans in the labor movement.

Now if something happens to make them be totally fed up with the Democrats, then they'll just give up and they won't vote. But the landslide is there. Now there are two counters to it. One is going to be the Republican money and organization and the other one is going to be what if something happens to make them say the hell with it. But right now you've got that kind of a slide going. You know the media have never been very good at seeing those things.

Q: Well, when you say landslide, what are you talking about?

A: Oh, let me say a good many more than 25 seats. I don't want to sound like an optimist because I'm not. Because I think we could also end up screwing it up. And Reagan could use his charm so well and everyone could talk about how wonderful he is, and everybody in the media could describe the tax bill as a Reagan victory when it was crammed down his throat just flat -- primarily by Republican senators with a little help from the Democrats, and the little help was the thing that made the difference.

Q: Well, I don't think they're describing it as a Reagan victory, but I think they are describing it as a Republican Senate victory.

A: Well, that's right. . . . You know, it tickles me that it has to be a party matter. The bill that I'm proudest of having worked on is a civil rights bill that nobody even knows passed and it made it possible for all the others to pass. . . . It was not passed by a party. It was not passed by a group. It was not a question of progressive or conservative, but it was passed. The first civil rights act since Reconstruction. In 1957. That happens to be the one that I'm still the most pleased with. I spent three solid years working on one little peanut bill and nobody remembers what it was.

Q: What did it do?

A: It did a little something on voting rights. And what it did, it got through the Senate. And nothing had ever been able to get through the Senate. And it got through the Senate because it was constructed by people who didn't want a posture. I don't give a goddamn about who getsscredit for things. What I'm interested in seeing is an event.

Q: What about just generally? The Democratic Party and democratic alternatives and new democratic ideas? We kept hearing that the Democratic Party was bereft of ideas.

A: I have an ancient theory, but it may come from the fact that I started out as an academic, that there are very damned few new ideas. The thing that you do is try to take old ideas and put them together in different ways so that you can accomplish more than you did the last time. And I'm sure there are brand new ideas but I don't happen to have seen any. I have seen new knowledge, and my impression of knowledge -- both scientific and engineering -- is that every new step forward brings with it 10 more pieces of ignorance. Which does not mean that I am against progress, it just means that I think it's very important to keep in balance about new ideas and I think there's something philosophically wrong in this notion that you have to have new ideas.

Q: Go back to this election again. Some of your friends say that you're nervous that the Democrats might be too successful this year and learn bad lessons.

A: No, I don't think they'll learn bad lessons. The thing that I'm afraid of is -- I think it would be a disaster if the elements in the Democratic Party that think we've never made a mistake came back so strong that they were able to get us to go back to the way we behaved in 1965 and 1966. (We have to have) some understanding that we have to deal with the macroeconomic problem, you know, not only have to deal with unemployment, we have to deal with inflation.

If we have a great big win, I'm afraid the Democrats will go hog wild and think that that wipes out the fact that they elected Reagan -- which is what we did. Partly by accident.

(We had)a guy (Jimmy Carter) who had a lot of good intentions and damn near was a good president. If he'd won on energy -- and he could have won very easily on energy but he wouldn't listen to anybody. If he'd won on energy Carter would have had a different ending. . . . We managed to pass a pretty good bill (inide is the the House) that would have been an energy policy. And all Carter had to do was one thing, pretty simple but probably pretty crass, and he didn't do it. Just buy Russell Long, that's all. You know, just satisfy him so he'd go along with what was necessary and I don't think it would have cost $2 billion. Louisiana isn't that big. Billion, did I say?

That was the key mistake. He didn't get Russell Long in advance. I think otherwise he did some remarkable things. I think the Panama thing was worth a lot. I think a lot of other things that he had going were very important but he lost his ability to convey an image of being in charge.

Q: Going back to the Democrats and their future, you've got Coelho (Rep. Tony Coelho, the California Democrat who is chariman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee), out there soliciting money from every special interest in the book. You've got Rosty (Ways and Means Chairman Don Rostenkowski, Illinois Democrat) still inclined it appears to compete with the Republicans for the favoritism of corporate America. Isn't this a serious strain in the party?

A: It is a strain in the party and I doubt if we'll ever be in a situation where we don't have people who are of that particular point of view in the political process. That's part of it. It is not the most agreeable part. I've usually been successful in avoiding the uglier of the fundraising aspect because I'm not very good at it. Not that I'm so goddamned pure. I'm no good at it. I'm not very good at asking for money myself. And my career here makes me very hard to raise money for. So it's sort of a compliment, but it's also at the same time a great disadvantage ...

Q: Can that strain corrupt the party?

A: Oh absolutely. Money and politics can destroy the democracy of the United States. I think it's the most destructive thing that exists.

It's very clear that we have to do something about the money involved. And the only solution I see is at least a partial public contribution which evens out the situation between the presidential money in politics and the House-Senate money in politics (current law provides public financing for presidential campaigns, but not for congressional races.)

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the caliber of people who are being elected to Congress?

A: Well I tell you what I think, in a curious kind of way, I think that the quality in Congress has gone up steadily since I've been here. . . . (The) people are better and come here with a better point of view. Now I happen to believe but I can't prove it that we have a larger number of broad-gauge public servant types here than there have ever been in my time.

Q: What about intelligence, competence?

A: Oh, I don't think there's any question about that, way up. Now, not necessarily legislative skill. They are slow to come to that. But individual intelligence, education, competence, potential, no question.

Q: Well, if these guys are more moral, smarter and more competent, why is the Congress still so chaotic?

A: Because it took them a long time, those guys that came in in '74 and '76, the two Watergate classes, to understand that . . . they had to work together to get anything done in a collegial body. It's been sort of fascinating to watch them with their enormous independence and their enormous intelligence and their enormous ability finally settle down into being team players, even learning that you don't have to yack about everything that you're doing. They don't have to get some plublicity out of every single action.

You know I've always been willing to say that I would not talk about what I was doing. Because I thought that was the only way I could be effective. . . . My favorite story on it is the story of my having to call up Drew Pearson and getting him to squash as far as I know the only story he ever squashed. Because it would have killed that civil rights bill back in '57. We just simply had to have (House Speaker Sam) Rayburn protected from the truth, which was that s the he was for a voting rights act long before he wanted it to surface in his very anti-civil rights district.

Q: And what was Pearson going to do?

A: Well he had the story. It's in one of my books and I had made a mistake of confiding to one person the fact that Rayburn had told me that he liked a certain statement. He agreed with everything in the statement and part of that statement was that they were for the Voting Rights Act. Which is what that '57 act was.

Q: And the one person you chose to confide in was Drew Pearson?

A: No, I chose to confide in a man who has a great deal of fame in his time and he didn't turn out to be entirely reliable on that and many other occasions. His name is Gene McCarthy. But he was the guy that had drafted the statement and I had sworn him to secrecy and Pearson's legman had it within 48 hours. And I did what I've never done before or since. I called up Drew, whom I knew pretty well and didn't think was awful, and said, look here we are. I've never done this before, I hope I never have to do it again. It's your judgment, of course, because you've got the information. It's perfectly accurate. And this is what you're going to do. You're going to drive him off and when you drive him off you will have driven Lyndon off and the only hope we've got to get Lyndon activated, this great civil righter, is that Rayburn will be able to force him to see that he's got to handle it. So Pearson killed it. And he was a pretty moral guy, too, in his own funny way.

Q: A lot of the members I've talked to say that it's almost impossible to have a decent legislative record when you have to have a permanent campaign. Do you think congressmen should have to run every two years?

A: Yes, sure. It's the only way in which the American people's impatience can be satisfied.

Margot Hornblower and Robert G. Kaiser are members of the staff of The Washington Post. CAPTION: Picture 1, Richard Bolling, 66, chairman of the House Rules Committee, is retiring at the end of this year after 34 years in Congress. Bolling, a Missouri Democrat, began his House career as a protege of Speaker Sam Rayburn, who thought Bolling would make a good speaker himself one day. Bolling did win the admiration of his colleagues for his brilliance, but he never won their votes for the speakership.

Many House Democrats urged Bolling not to retire this year, but he was determined not to become one of the congressmen who hang onto office too long. Next year he will become the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Professor of Political Science at Boston College. He plans to write a book proposing far-reaching reforms of the American political system.