THE NEW CONGRESS

A FEW DAYS AGO - too few - we said we'd go out on a limb and forecast continued Republican control of the U.S. Senate in this year's elections. It wasn't a very strong limb and along with everyone else we heard it snap Tuesday night.

The president's coattails, on which we relied in making that forecast, may have helped somewhat in limiting Republican losses in the House to less than historical averages. Mr. Reagan's extensive stumping also may have contributed to the big gains the GOP made in the gubernatorial races.But, so far as any coattail impact in the Senate races is concerned, the president must have been wearing a windbreaker or an Eisenhower jacket.

There were many reasons for that, as we know now. A key one is the fact that many of the Republican losses Tuesday were relatively narrow defeats for seats that were equally narrowly won in the big Reagan victory of 1980. Southern Democrats went back to their traditional party in voting for senators but not for governors. Dissatisfaction in the farm states and other economically troubled sectors also helped push some of those 1980 wins into the loss column in 1986.

The relative attractiveness of individual candidates, their comparative ability to identify and speak to home state concerns, an apparent backlash against negative campaign advertising - the list could go on and on.

But you've probably had your fill of post-election analysis by now and, in the case of the Senate, we hope that we may be excused for not wanting to dwell on it. Many of those who expected the Democrats to regain the Senate were surprised that they were able to supplant the 53-47 Republican majority of the last Congress with a 55-45 margin of their own.

We'd rather look, at this point, to the question of where do we go from here. And the prospects for that future just might be illuminated by two kinds of old jokes.

One of them might be rewritten to read: What do you get when you cross a Republican White House and a Democratic Congress? In most of the Eisenhower presidency and in many of the Nixon-Ford years, the answer to that was a flow of important compromise legislation despite the obligatory partisanship. We'd like to think that kind of productive cooperation could be repeated in the new Congress.

The second joke might begin: Did you hear the one about the two Irishmen? We have in mind the president and the retiring speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill. Good men both, but on their bad days the relationship between them produced the kind of partisan bickering that can only lead to repeated stalemate over the last two years of the Reagan presidency.

But donnybrooks that lead to deadlocks in our federal government are something we can no longer afford, given the size of this nation's trade and budget deficits. With Rep. O'Neill gone there should be less bickering, at least on the Democrats' side of the aisle. But both Mr. Reagan and the new Democratic Congress will have to bend a little - but not really stoop - if we are going to do something about those deficits and other national problems.

A case in point is trade legislation. It's a bad case because it was the source of deep divisions between the White House and the Democratic House and Republican Senate in the last Congress but none of the important issues that will confront the federal government in the next two years will be easy.

For the full story: Log In, Register for Free or Subscribe