Never has the small business community had so clear a chance to serve its country as it has in the new congressional session. The Small Business Innovation Research Act, a bill vital to the nation's future competitive capacity, awaits action by the House of Representatives (see The Buck Stops Here, page 132).

The Senate, voting 90-0, enacted its version of the bill (S.811) on December 8, 1981. On October 22, 1981, the House Small Business Committee, after years of study, unanimously reported out its version (H.R. 4326) 40-0.

But the bill has now been referred to four additional House committees. The Committees on Science and Technology, Armed Services, Energy and Commerce, and Veterans Affairs have all asked to consider it. Death by delay or dismemberment is often what such wholesale referral means. Is this what Speaker Thomas P. ("Tip") O'Neill and his colleagues in the House Democratic leadership intend with their referral rigmarole?

More than 160 of the 435 members of the House have, at this writing, joined in sponsoring the bill. More are joining every day. As noted, both the whole Senate and the House committee with primary jurisdiction have unanimously supported it.

But the bill has its opponents. A small group of bureaucratic zealots, centered largely in the Health and Human Services agencies, fought the bill in the White House.

They lost. The President came out four-square in favor of the Senate version of the bill. In an October 6, 1981, letter to Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), he predicted that "all sectors of the economy are likely to benefit from the increased competition and research incentives your ligislation would provide."

This statement came after the opposition bureaucrats had roused their academic constituents in the universities, hospitals, and medical schools. "You'd better holler now," they urged, "or we're going to lose some of our ability to feed you money." A barrage of hysterical phone calls and letters resulted.

When they lost the White House battle, they turned the heat on the Senate. Not a single senator was swayed by the scare tactics.

The opposition lost the second round.

The third round takes place in the House. There, the opposition faces more than a remarkably large number of representatives coming forward to sponsor the bill. It faces a 3 1/2-year history on the issue. This bill is now a matter of honor and honesty between the Democratic leadership and the small business community.

It's important that the bill reach the House floor when it ordinarily would -- by mid-March. Let your representative know now that this is a small business "litmus paper" bill. You can find out whether he or she is already a sponsor from the honor roll on page 131. If you know your representative is a member of one of the four "extra" committees, ask his or her help in speeding favorable action.

The thunderous 90-0 support the bill received in the Senate is precisely what it deserves in the House. Five committees or 50, Mr. Speaker, just get it to the floor by March 15. Then we can see how close to 435-0 we can come.