The marigold should be designated the "national flower." The Electoral College should be abolished. Arbor Day should be a national holiday. The government should provide postage-paid envelopes for tax returns.

The apple blossom should be designated the "national flower." There should be a tax deduction for rent payments. Section 14b of the Taft-Hartley Act should be repealed. July 20 should be a national holiday. Presidential candidates should be chosen in a single national primary.

The rose should be designated the "national flower."

Although the connection among these varied proposals may not be readily apparent, they have one characteristic in common; they are ideas whose time has not yet come.

These proposals, and hundreds more like them, are among the legislative chestnuts dropped in Congress' bill hoppers year after year - in some cases, decade after decade - without ever coming close to enactment.

Most of the never-say-die bills are the pet projects of individual members of Congress, but a few survive even after their champions retire.

One of the best known is H.R.144, a brief bill that would require the federal government to balance its budget. The bill was introduced regularly for 25 years by H. R. Gross, a penny-pinching Republican from Iowa.

When Gross left Congress in 1974, H.R.144, was taken over by his successor, Republican Charles Grassley, who has proposed the bill each year since and says will continue to as long as he is in Congress.

This year, as in the past, H.R.144's chances of passage are nil.

Another famous perennial is the bill proposing the marigold as the country's "national floral emblem," a piece of legislation that was introduced with suitably flowery rhetoric in each Congress for three decades by the late Senate Minority Leader Everett McKinley Dirksen (R-Ill.)

The marigold bill has become a family affair, with Dirksen's son-in-law, Senate Minority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), proposing it in each new Congress.

Marigolds have never won the honor, however, at least partially because of competition. Over the years members have proposed everything from the corn tassel to the dandelion to be America's "national flower." For the past 10 years or so, bills nominating the rose and the apple blossom have been introduced each year just after Baker's marigold legislation.

Since politics is often defined as "the art of the possible," why do politicians persist in introducing seemingly hopeless legislation?

In a few cases, tradition has become its own excuse.

Moreover, there is always a chance, however dim, of eventual success. Now and then persistence, coupled with increasing seniority, can turn a long-ignored bill into law.

Soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, a young Louisiana congressman began introducing a bill to establish an armed forces medical school.

Thirty-five years later, the congressman, F. Edward Hebert (D-La.), was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and his impossible dream because a $42 million reality. The medical school is under construction near the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

Another old standby that found its moments in the sun, if only briefly, was the common site picketing bill, introduced for more than two decades by Rep. Frank Thompson Jr. (D-N.J.)

Last year, Thompson finally pushed the bill through Congress - only to have it vetoed by President Ford.

The bill came up again in the House last month and was defeated so soundly that Thompson quipped he would have to keep submitting it for another 20 years.

Some long-standing bills are a product of a particular congressional district. Since the first federal income tax form was printed, members of Congress from New York City where tenants are more numerous than homeowners, have proposed a tax deduction for rent.

Similarly, West Orange, N.J., is the headquarters of the National Arbor Day Committee, and for decades members of Congress representing that city have introduced bills that would make the day (the last Friday in April) a national holiday.

Last year both houses passed a measure introduced annually since 1969 by Rep. Olin E. Teague (D-Tex.) to declare July 20 a legal holiday to be called "Lunar Landing Day."

That bill fell victim to a pocket veto in the Ford White House, but Teague did not despair. He has reintroduced the bill and says its chances are better than ever. Senate passage should come easily, he expects, now that Republican Harrison A. Schmitt of New Mexico, the most recent earthing to walk on the moon, has entered their body. Teahue's aides say they also have won a promise of support from President Carter.

Another prime target of the perennial bills is the Constitution. The equal amendment languished in Congress for 25 years before it was sent to the states in 1972, and some other proposed constitutional amendments - including those on abortion, school prayer, and presidential elections - bid fair to be around at least that long.

This category also includes probably the oldest chestnut - a proposal to eliminate the Electoral College.

The first bill reflecting that idea was introduced in the Senate in 1826, and the legislation has popped up on a regular basis almost every four years since then.

Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minn.) has been introducing such a bill for 25 years, while Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) has been sponsoring the amendment since 1964. This year Bayh says it has a "better than even" chance of passage.

And if it fails? "I'll just have to put it in again in 1980," Bayh says.