THE SENATE couldn't get to the Genocide Treaty after all. The treaty has been before that body for a mere 36 years, since President Truman sent it to the Hill asking senators to consent to ratification. No one expects legislatures to act with unseemly haste, but surely 31/2 decades is enough. The treaty was buried in committee for long stretches of time, but this year there was real hope. President Reagan, after three years of silence, issued a strong endorsement, and the treaty was reported by the Foreign Relations Committee without a single dissent. In the end, though, it wound up on the long list of important matters the Senate did not reach before time ran out. The victory goes to those few members whose numbers are insufficient to block a ratification vote but who can tie up the Senate in procedural knots to prevent any vote at all.

Instead of a vote on the treaty itself, the leadership offered a resolution that expresses the support of the Senate "for the principles embodied in the convention . . . and declares its intention to act expeditiously thereon in the first session of the 99th Congress." Sen. Charles Mathias (R-Md.), expressing the frustration of one who has supported ratification for years, sought assurances that the resolution was not "a mealy-mouthed cop-out, and one that is not worthy of the U.S. Senate." Members of the Foreign Relations Committee promised early hearings next year and fast action on the floor, but this expression of intent cannot bind a future Congress. Nor can minority members set the agenda for a committee that just might be chaired next year by one of the treaty's few opponents, Sen. Jesse Helms.

Thursday's 87-2 vote for the resolution is the best the Senate could do. It reaffirms the conviction of treaty supporters that there is a large majority who would vote for ratification, given the chance. We will learn in January whether legislators will live up to this expression of intent by considering the treaty without being intimidated by a small, wrongheaded minority.