WHEN THE RAILROAD deregulation bill reached the floor of the House of Representatives just before the July recess, it had a simple and straight forward name: the Rail Act of 1980. Fifteen minutes later, after some discussion -- it hardly rose to the level of debate -- the bill had a new name: the Harley O. Staggers Rail Act of 1980.
This change was proposed by Rep. James J. Florio, the bill's sponsor. It was, he told his colleagues, a "fitting tribute" to Mr. Staggers' Years of service and dedication to a sound rail transportation system in America." Mr. Staggers is retiring next January.
Mr. Florio's amendment faced little opposition. Seven members of the House rose to commend him for offering it and to say flattering things about Mr. Staggers and his years of service. Only Rep. Robert Bauman had the audacity to question the name change. Of course, he too spoke warmly of Mr. Staggers before he said, "It borders on the ridiculous when we start naming bills after members of Congress."
This is one of those rare occasions when we are moved to associate ourselves with Mr. Bauman's views. It is ridiculous to name legislation after members, even those as senior and as distinguished as Mr. Staggers.
If this practice is going to continue, some problems (and some hurt feelings) can be avoided if Congress sets up a formal schedule. It could go like this: any member who serves seven years -- that way a senator would have to be elected twice -- gets a public building named in his honor. At 13 years, each member gets a dam. At 19 years -- three senatorial elections -- a lake. At 25 years, a bill could join the collection and after 30 years -- the big prize -- an appropriations bill.
Or course, each member would have to have a veto over which building, dam, lake or bill was to carry his name. Mr. Bauman, for instance, surely wouldn't want to be stuck with a health and welfare bill. But that shouldn't be a problem. More than enough public works projects and legislation gets approved these days to go around.