CONGRESSIONAL OUTLOOK

THE 99th CONGRESS RETURNS to Washington today with four work weeks left before its scheduled adjournment Oct. 3.

Given the many major bills still requiring congressional attention, that is not much time even with allowance for the accelerated - and sometimes frantic - pace on Capitol Hill when adjournment dates approach.We hope this Congress will use its remaining days to take final action on several bills that ought to be passed before adjournment and let some other key issues, including some close to us, wait for the new Congress in January.

To begin with, we think the conference report on the tax reform bill should be approved by both houses as quickly as possible. That would permit an early start on the writing and publication of the host of regulations needed to spell out the many changes wrought by the bill.

Passage of the tax bill prior to action on the budget also would yield a first-year revenue dividend of $11 billion. That would go a long way toward removing the need for other action to meet the Gramm-Rudman-Holl ings Act's requirements for cutting the fiscal l987 deficit. It isn't anywhere near a long-term answer to the huge problems posed by the deficit, particularly for the later years when the act would require much greater cuts in the deficit. But Congress and the Reagan administration don't seem likely to do much more this session.

In transportation, Senate and House conferees are moving closer to agreement on a conference report that would cap years of effort to write port and waterway development legislation. Final passage of the delicate compromises involved should come this year. The alternative would be a return to square one next year.

We hate to give up hope for action this year to sell the federal government's Conrail holdings, but now may be the time to do so. Efforts to write legislation to sell those holdings through a public offering seem to be gaining ground. But House votes needed for a Conrail bill seem entangled with other proposals to re-impose some government regulation of the railroads. The issues should be treated separately but wishing (or editorializing) won't make it so.

We see no point in a last-minute congressional rush job on both items in order to get Conrail sold. An asset with its economic importance should be sold carefully. The other rail proposals would take us part of the way back to the regulatory era that produced Conrail and, therefore, require more deliberate consideration.

We'd like to give all the encouragement we can to those lawmakers who haven't given up trying to find a compromise formula for reforming the maritime subsidy system - despite the divisions within the industry and the opposition of the administration. But they still seem to be battling very long odds against action this year.

In our view, there is more bad than good in the House-passed omnibus trade bill and the parallel proposals yet to reach a committee vote in the Senate. There seems to be too little time left for such committee action, Senate floor debate and then conference committee deliberations. Partly

because the net result might be a deserved presidential veto, we see no need to hurry.

Time is a critical factor for some other bills. Among them we would include the legislation to renew the Export-Import Bank authority, which expires Sept. 30, and a measure to extend emergency powers permitting bank regulators to allow interstate mergers as a means of avoiding bank or savings and loan failures. The emergency powers bank bill will require divorcing such powers from larger questions of banking reform. That may be difficult, but it is vital.

Action also is needed on legislation to revise and fund the Superfund program for hazardous waste clean up. Given the near certainty that liability and tort reform legislation won't be enacted this year, it also makes sense to us that Congress approve the risk retention legislation that would permit more companies to form self-insurance groups.

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