I hope Robert J. Samuelson's Nov. 15 op-ed column {"Lure of the Free Lunch"} is widely read, particularly by elected representatives at all levels of government. He is correct that most Americans think government asks too much and provides too little (or is extremely wasteful in spending the tax dollars it collects). Whether it is a question of unrealistic expectations or poor performance, why aren't our lawmakers discussing these important public policy issues in a way to help us understand the real choices?

Although the media constantly referred to this fall's federal budget battle between the executive and legislative branches as "the mess in Washington," I thought it presented some glimmers of responsible governing. It was the start of debate about significant differences on the public policy aspects of taxation and spending issues. Unfortunately, those glimmers were quickly extinguished by the partisan rhetoric of the election campaign.

With the 1990 elections out of the way, I would like to hear what our elected representatives really think about the basic questions posed by Mr. Samuelson. All of us would welcome a healthy dose of rational, straightforward debate as an antidote to the recent diet of shopworn platitudes.

JOHN C. ULFELDER McLean