CONGRESS NEARLY always leaves town in a haze of self-congratulation. This time it's called for. It's not just the budget and tax reform. Good work has been done on lesser issues as well.
The government's civil service and military retirement programs, which cost in excess of $40 billion a year, have been restructured and brought back within bounds. A new regulatory apparatus has been put in place to ensure a clean drinking water supply. The Senate has passed legislation extending (without mauling, as the president proposed) the main forms of federal aid to higher education, and a House-Senate conference should shortly produce a good bill. The House has passed and the Senate is at work on legislation at least keeping alive the government's basic housing programs, including those for the poor. Implicit in the budget resolution is some tidying-up in other areas -- for example, Medicare, where a faulty mechanism has driven up patient costs even as government costs were coming down.
Not everywhere has there been progress. The Superfund conference drones on disgracefully. Congress thought this clean-up program for industrial dumps so vital when the administration was butchering it in 1982 that five subcommittees, including some whose members are now conferees, conducted investigations. Some of the same righteous indignation could now be fairly turned on Congress itself. The bill extending the program should have been passed a year ago; the conference has been going on for nearly five months.
The immigration bill is also stuck -- once again -- in the House. The Judiciary Committee has finally approved a version. The Democratic leadership can move a bill, if it will. The borders, particularly that with Mexico, badly need to be caulked. Congress should also pass the bill to reverse the Supreme Court's Grove City decision of two years ago, narrowing the government's jurisdiction in civil rights enforcement. An abortion dispute is one factor holding up this important bill in the House; the members can and should resolve it.
Congress also has before it the implementing legislation for the budget. The armed services committees seem to be producing defense bills in good order; the appropriations committees have begun work as well. There is talk of lumping most if not all appropriations bills in a single "continuing resolution" for nearly all the government at the end of the session. That's an awful way to legislate. The more of these bills that can be rescued and considered on their own, the better.