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A not-so-funny thing has happened to aid for college and trade school students on its way through Congress.

What started out years ago as a comparatively modest program to help students from poor families has turned into an exorbitant effort to subsidize students from middle-class backgrounds and sometimes even the more affluent.Unhappily, Congress seems intent on pushing this ill-advised trend even though it's bound to either add to the federal deficit or heighten pressure for increasing taxes.

As the latest case in point, consider the student financial aid package now making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives:

- According to an analysis by the American Council on Education, the House bill would authorize loans to students from families with a yearly income of as much as $123,700.

- For Pell grants in particular, the family income ceiling on eligibility would be raised from the present $30,000 a year to $50,000 annually.

- To qualify for a loan to send a student to a public four-year institution costing $9,141 a year, a family may now earn no more than $62,300 a year. The House bill would boost that ceiling to $72,800.

- The House bill also would require automatic, full funding of Pell grants each year. Never mind that a depression might come along or that an investigation might discover rampant waste in the program.

Is there only one way to get this nation's lawmakers to call a halt? The more lavish they get with their constituents' money, the more tempting it is to impose a term limit on Congress even though such a restriction would be artificial and harsh.