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The Puerto Rican nationalists given clemency by President Clinton haven't even been free for a month yet and already the American public is facing a grave threat.

No, not from increased terrorism. The threat is more pervasive: more congressional hearings.

Eager to milk an issue over which they have no control and which poses no real danger to the nation, Republican congressional leaders have ignored the issue's practical relevance and already have held one such hearing and two votes.

In the meantime, matters which they do have control over -- including most of the 13 budget bills that should be in place when the new fiscal year starts next week -- languish.

This is a Congress whose most lasting legacy may well be public hearings -- with barely anything to show for them. The last thing the public needs is one more on a subject on which it has no constitutional authority, where the public recognizes there is no real danger and where the political motivation is so transparent.

The public already knows the facts of this case. The activists -- sentenced to up to 90 years for crimes like conspiracy and weapons charges, not of actually harming anyone -- already have served more time than they would under current federal guidelines. Most have spent 19 years in prison. Our concepts of proportional justice argue for release.

Yet, their crimes were committed in support of a violent group, which makes their offenses worse than if committed in another context. That's why law enforcement groups are so outraged.

Such competing values make it a close call. Clinton weighed all of that and made a decision that is defensible, if not clear-cut. It was his call, and there is nothing more for grandstanding lawmakers to do after already milking this with resolutions in both houses and a committee hearing earlier this week.

Dragging this through Congress or a court fight over subpoenaing presidential records while budget bills and everything else is pushed aside makes no sense.

It's time for the House and Senate to get to work on issues they can do something about.

The biggest threat to the U.S. way of life right now is not Puerto Rican terrorists, it's a Congress that won't pass budget bills to keep the government running.

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