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REFORM THE CONGRESSIONAL RECORD

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Though her cause is just, Democratic U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York has mounted a reform effort that can only be described an exercise in futility pitted against an exercise in hypocrisy.

We're referring to her efforts to draft legislation that would curb the practice by which this nation's lawmakers routinely amend the remarks they make on the floor of Congress when those remarks are published in the Congressional Record.Her reform efforts came after she tried to restrict debate in the House of Representatives on a family planning bill, prompting Republican Rep. Gerald Solomon of New York to respond:

"You had better not do that, ma'am. You will regret that as long as you live."

But when the Congressional Record appeared the next day, Solomon had changed his response to read:

"I will say to the gentlelady, for whom I have the greatest respect, I would hope that she or any other member not try to cut off another member when a serious matter like this is trying to be resolved here in the proper House."

This episode is one of the least flagrant examples of the misuse regularly made of the Congressional Record. Consider just a couple of the many more offensive travesties:

- Rep. Gus Savage of Illinois accused some of his colleagues of being racist, then deleted the critical remarks when his impassioned speech on the House floor was printed in the Congressional Record.

- When Jim Wright of Texas was speaker of the House, he used the Congressional Record to plug a home video product made by his wife's employer even though the subject never came up during discussions on the floor of the House.

Imagine how Congress would react if the White House or the courts tinkered with their records the way this nation's lawmakers tinker with the Congressional Record.

Anyway, such episodes prompted the House of Representatives to direct a committee to start looking into practices that make a sham of the Congressional Record. Since then, more than two years have passed without anything having come of the committee's efforts.

That's why it's hard to be optimistic about Slaughter's current efforts to reform the Congressional Record. What is encouraging, though, is that the doctoring of the Record is becoming harder to hide. Since the House started televising its proceedings, a true verbatim record of its proceedings has been available on TV tape.

Anyone who cares about the unvarnished truth had better keep a close watch on C-SPAN, which televises congressional proceedings. Eventually, those who have no scruples about tampering with printed records will have no scruples about tampering with electronic records, either.