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GIVEN THE ABYSMAL record of Congress during the first half of the 104th session, we hope that the past is not prologue.

We've watched with dismay the growing tendency of each political party to pretend as if the other party does not exist when putting together legislation.

In 1994, for example, most of the then-Democratic-controlled committees paid little heed to what Republican members had to say when those panels assembled and then voted on health care reform packages.

Not surprisingly, the failure of Democratic leaders to develop a bipartisan consensus on health care reform was a key factor behind the collapse of those reform bills on the House and Senate floors.

At least on the issue of health care reform, though, Democrats and Republicans talked to one another. What has happened in the current congressional session is something else.

Take the current impasse over the budget reconciliation bill. That's the sprawling bill that contains just about everything under the sun, including proposed tax changes, an overhaul of the Medicare program and pension simplification, just to name a few.

In the not so distant past, when the House and Senate passed budget reconciliation bills, conference committees were established in which Democratic and Republican negotiators met to hammer out differences in the bills and to fashion a final bill that the Executive Branch could approve.

How things have changed. Republican leaders didn't even bother with the formality of holding a conference committee to agree on the most recent budget reconciliation bill. They shut out the Democrats and put together their own bill.

And what was accomplished? President Clinton vetoed the bill and Republicans are no closer to accomplishing the objectives they sought in the bill-such as overhauling Medicare-than they were before.

Other Republican tactics in Congress also have backfired. Take pension simplification legislation. Here is a proposal on which Republicans and Democrats both agree-and employers desperately want. So, why not pass simplification as a free-standing bill? Instead, the GOP leaders rolled the provisions into the highly controversial budget reconciliation bill, which, as we know, has stalled.

On the risk management side, the legislative record isn't very good, either.

While the Senate and House passed product liability reform bills months ago, the Republican leadership only recently set the wheels in motion to get differences in the two bills ironed out. Why did the leadership let so much valuable time elapse on a bill that's so important to the business community?

Besides these measures, there are a slew of other measures we would like to see passed, including incremental health care reforms, coordination of veterans benefit provisions and OSHA reform, to name a few.

We can only hope that congressional leaders come to their senses, realize that shutting out the other party isn't working and can begin the new year with a new resolve to do things the old-fashioned but logical way: talk and work with each other