Back in 1961, President Kennedy told us to ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. Today, that's considered naive. In the '80s Ronald Reagan was twice elected president by convincing too many people that it was OK to be greedy, self-indulgent and scornful of the poor and the unemployed. Unfortunately, that wasn't difficult.

So-called supply-side economics (or ''Reaganomics'') struck a chord in human nature; it convinced people that lowering income taxes would be a bonanza, not only for the rich but for everybody. The illusion of ''prosperity'' during Mr. Reagan's administration was fueled by the growing federal deficits. The public couldn't care less that Mr. Reagan tripled the national debt -- and its interest expense. Under President Bush, the federal debt continues to rise rapidly. Living beyond our means is still considered ''prosperity.''

Inflation would be greater except for our importation of so many relatively cheap foreign goods. Unfortunately, the brunt of the trade imbalance is being borne by the many workers in our manufacturing industries who have lost their jobs.

I, for one, am willing to pay a higher income tax to help reduce our national debt and our interest payments. WILLIAM R. ETHERIDGE Arlington

The budget fiasco points up the morass that has evolved around our legislative branch.

The press made much of the president's "vacation" during a time of national crisis. The fact that Mr. Bush worked and was able to carry on his official functions as well in Kennebunkport as in Washington was largely ignored.

Ignored too was the fact that Congress, aware of its budget responsibilities and faced with a deadline, was not only unable but unwilling to accept the challenge and proceeded to go on their hallowed August vacation. This break was probably spent traveling on tax-paid junkets and pursuing votes and reelection. There is no business executive who would consider going on holiday if his or her firm were on the brink of disaster.

Their priorities thus made clear, the legislators are now continuing to pursue their goals: protecting their rear flanks and emitting rhetoric aimed at getting them reelected.

The original purpose of our law-making branch was that its members take leave of their professions and devote a few years, at great personal sacrifice, to our country's service.

We should take a leaf from our forefathers; throw out the lot and elect those whose concern is for the public good, not their own.


Not too long ago Congress acted to give itself a large pay raise. In the process, Congress displayed the same wisdom, fairness, courage and leadership now evident in its handling of deficit reduction measures.

Based on performance, I now support rescinding the congressional salary increase as the first component of any serious deficit reduction package. And I will be looking for a few incumbents to vote against in the weeks ahead. A. DOUGLAS REEVES Alexandria