We must take exception to the part of The Post's editorial "Omnibills . . ." {Oct. 19} which stated that the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee and other congressional committees were "making jokes of their responsibility to reduce the deficit."

The proposal to assess a fee of $250,000 (or actual expenses, whichever is greater) for the escort services given to the reflagged Kuwaiti vessels in the Persian Gulf is deadly serious. Kuwait made a business decision to reflag its vessels in the United States for the sole purpose of making them eligible for U.S. protection, a protection not available from its own government or from those whose energy lifelines are threatened.

It is no joke to believe that those who are benefiting from this service should be expected to pay for it. And it is not the least bit humorous that providing this service is costing the U.S. taxpayer $20 million each month.

Our committee, given the task of coming up with $94 million to reduce the deficit, looked at the options and found the cupboard bare. Coast Guard user fees, suggested by the budget resolution and a perennial favorite of this administration, have been discussed since 1981 and have never been approved. As a military service with a vast array of peacetime tasks, the Coast Guard serves general public policy purposes. It protects lives and property, interdicts drug trafficking, responds to oil spills and defends our coasts in time of war. All taxpayers benefit, David Stockman's user-fee concept notwithstanding.

Were we even inclined to think about Coast Guard user fees this year, the disgraceful level of Coast Guard funding approved by the House would have deep-sixed the idea. How in good conscience could one ask a boater to spend $20 or a vessel operator to spend $20,000 when the Coast Guard as we know it is threatened by budget cuts of its own? The appropriations approved by the House would eliminate 2,449 people, tie up 30 cutters and boats and close 17 search-and-rescue stations. Proceeds from the proposed user fees would not even be used to subsidize search-and-rescue or law enforcement activities, but rather would be deposited in the general treasury.

The Coast Guard user fees sought by the administration are primarily for activities required by law. Does it not make sense first to charge the owners of the Kuwaiti tankers who voluntarily make use of a government service -- those whose commercial judgment drove them to pull down their own country's flag and hide behind that of the United States?

The Post erred. Our committee does not take its deficit-reduction responsibility lightly. Given the programs under our jurisdiction -- those still remaining after seven years of cuts and eliminations -- we took the only action open to us. We suspect the vast majority of the public agrees with us.

We agree that "megabills are a poor way to govern." Indeed, if there is a joke anywhere in this megamess, it's a bad one and we've yet to hear the punch line. WALTER B. JONES U.S. Representative (D-N.C.), Chairman ROBERT W. DAVIS U.S. Representative (R-Mich.), Ranking Minority Member Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries Washington