The insulated, arrogant Congress, with a record of performance now approaching national embarrassment, faces a prospect of citizen reform because Congress won't cure itself.

Some samplings of public opinion suggest blunt surgery. Fed-up citizens across the nation are reportedly in a mood to throw the rascals out Nov. 6, to vote against incumbents, to vote against Congress itself.One good result - maybe the only result - of the current wave of citizen disgust could be that those rascals, if not thrown out, will be frightened enough to act on congressional reforms beyond helping themselves and their elders stay in office.

A constitutional limit on terms would be the best congressional reform. But there's a next-best available to Congress itself, reform of the institution to strip off crusts of bureaucracy and invigorate its operations, all within reach of its rules.

A most obvious target of reform is the committee system, a sprawling rabbit warren of legislative aides, political appointees, make-work specialists, mail-handlers, willing youngsters and able workers whose jobs all depend on patrons in Congress.

There are, by actual count, 19 permanent Senate committees and 84 associated subcommittees, with another 7 committees which deal with partisan political activity. There are 27 main House committees and 152 subcommittees, and a similar 7 political committees.

In addition, there are four joint committees of the Senate and House, one with eight subcommittees of its own.

In all, there are 46 permanent committees of the House and Senate and 236 subcommittees, along with the 14 partisan committees and the four joint committees. All of them employ legions of salaried workers, and most of them traipse back and forth over legislative turf churned up by rival committees.

This collection of Senate and House committee employees, along with personal congressional staff and armies of support personnel on Capitol Hill, totaled 14,757 people at recent count, all feeding off a congressional budget of $2.3 billion a year.

Two reforms in the committee system would aid Congress and - most certainly - improve its work and reputation.

The subcommittees, many of which exist only to employ staff and allow a majority member to be called "Mr. Chairman," should be cut back and most disbanded. And a time limit - four years or less - should be imposed by congressional rules on the service of committee chairs and ranking minority members.

Inevitably those two first-step reforms would be called a waste of experience and legislative expertise, a disservice to Americans. That's not true, as Congress in years of outrageous misrule has proved.

To the contrary, it was the entrenched experience and expertise of scores of committee chairmen and their expert and experienced staff - all sensitive to special-interest pleaders - which helped take the nation into the savings and loan scandal, the present budget gridlock, the abyss of national debt, a sad series of missteps in government.

It's that experience and expertise of members of Congress and their politically dependent staff that's been used just as impressively to build the Incumbency Party and the committee kingdoms seemingly beyond control.

It's too much to expect Congress to change by itself. Maybe the members can be scared into it.