Congress bears the brunt of a lot of public criticism, some warranted, some not. There is one bit of criticism Congress deserves: We sometimes delay implementing solutions to national problems until they mushroom into huge crises, leaving us no choice but to enact emergency legislation.

Such is the case with the now widely publicized failure of our nation's savings and loan industry.If Congress had been wise, we would have heeded the warning over three years ago by our own Utah Sen. Jake Garn.

As early as 1986, Garn was making speeches on the Senate floor, holding press conferences and traveling around the country warning that unless decisive actions were taken immediately, we would end up with a financial crisis of mind-boggling proportions in the savings and loan industry.

In 1986, Garn introduced legislation in the Senate to provide $15 billion in recapitalization funds - to be financed by the thrift industry, not by taxpayers - to help close insolvent and failing thrift institutions.

On Oct. 8, 1986, he stood on the floor of the U.S. Senate and accurately predicted devastating losses to the industry if the legislation were not passed.

Those words now haunt Congress because of their precision. If Garn's warnings had been heeded, we would not be forced to pump billions of dollars into the industry now and taxpayers would not be forced to help pay for the solution.

Three years ago, Garn said: "We should not tempt the hand of fate by doing nothing now. The consequences of that kind of inaction are bleak: potentially devastating losses to the (thrift insurance fund) . . . and even direct federal appropriations (from taxpayers)."

Garn was on record directly blasting savings and loan executives who suggested that taxpayers and not the thrifts come up with the money. "There is simply no reason the taxpayers of this country should bail out fraud, mismanagement and stupidity," he said.

Unfortunately, the Democratically controlled House of Representatives refused to support Garn's bill.

He did not let this setback stop him. He persisted for almost 18 months until he convinced Congress to pass the Reagan administration-approved plan of $10.8 billion - which was still only part of what he thought was needed.

Garn warned that this amount was grossly inadequate and predicted that we would be revisiting the issue soon. He doggedly stuck with the issue and ended up helping the Bush administration produce a massive bail-out and reform bill, which he then helped the Senate to pass just this past year.

While Garn praised the bill and worked diligently to see it pass, he consistently maintained that it would not have been necessary if we had faced the seriousness of the problem when he first yelled fire over three years ago.

There are a few, like the state Democratic party chairman, who feel they can gain political advantage by blaming Garn for the entire savings and loan crisis.

They hope that the anger many of us feel over this crisis will overwhelm the truth about his role.

Instead of condemnation, Garn deserves praise for being the only member of Congress with both the guts and foresight to try to solve this nightmare when he first saw it coming.