REP. WILLIAM A. STEIGER (R-Wis.), who died suddenly Monday, was -- at age 40 -- a veteran legislator of increasing stature in the Republican Party and the House. Mr. Steiger first drew general attention because of his youth; when he came to Congress in 1967, he was 28 and got gagged at once as the House member most often mistaken for a page. Very soon, the "page" earned respect as an able speaker, a hard worker and a legislator of skill.

Along with other moderate Midwestern Republicans, Mr. Steiger often chose to work with House Democrats instead of flatly opposing them. While helping to mold GOP alternatives in several fields, he also left his mark on many of the big bills that passed through his committees -- first Education and Labor, where he took a special interest in occupational health and safety, and then Ways and Means. His most spectacular success, of course, was his campaign for a cut in capital-gains taxes this year. Even those (including ourselves) who disagreed with him had to admire the deftness and persistence of his work.

Though hardly a screaming partisan in the House, Mr. Steiger was a party man in the best sense of the term. His district included Ripon, Wis., often regarded as the birthplace of the GOP. And he aligned himself, appropriately, with the Ripon Society and others committed to making the party more open and moderate. What set Mr. Steiger apart from many like-minded Republicans was his willingness to get deeply engaged in the grubby but crucial battles over party structure and rules. Here, too, his patience and good humor served him and his party well. His work carried more weight because he seemed to be in no particular hurry to seek higher office or promote himself. His death was untimely, a blow to his party and a loss to civility and seriousness of purpose in the House.