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Few things can tell more about the ability of Congress to reform itself than the vote the U.S. House of Representatives is about to take on the Congressional Accountability Act.

A vote in favor of the bill will mean Congress is finally willing to put its own house in order and stop treating itself more favorably than it treats the rest of the country.A vote against the measure will mean that a flagrant double standard and the bad reputation it gives them still don't bother this nation's lawmakers, whose bad habits on this score can be expected to persist indefinitely.

But at least the present one-sided arrangement bothers a few lawmakers such as Reps. Chris Shays, R-Conn., Dick Swett, D.-N.H., and the 250 other House members who have joined them in sponsoring the Congressional Accountability Act - much to the dismay of House leaders.

Let those dismayed leaders grumble and threaten all they want. The proposed new law still amounts to a long-overdue exercise in simple justice. It would end the practice by which members of Congress exempt themselves from some of the very laws they apply to other Americans.

The list of such exemptions is long and inexcusable. Among them are such legal landmarks as:

- The Americans With Disabilities Act.

- The Rehabilitation Act.

- The Occupational Safety and Health Act.

- The Equal Employment Opportunity Act.

- The Equal Pay Act.

- The Fair Labor Standards (minimum wage) Act.

- The Social Security Act.

- The National Labor Relations Act.

- The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988.

- The Freedom of Information Act.

- The Privacy Act.

By exempting itself and its members from these and other laws it passes, Congress puts itself in the indefensible position of telling the rest of the country to do as it says, not as it does.

As long as this double standard persists, it will provide strong ammunition to those seeking to impose sharp limits on how long anyone may serve in Congress.