Consider Amtrak. After years of supporting the railroad through wasteful federal subsidies, the president finally said, ?enough.? He eliminated Amtrak?s subsidy.
It?s about time. Amtrak has received more than $29 billion in federal support through the years, including $1.2 billion this year. The railroad loses money on every route it runs, and it serves only a tiny fraction of our transportation needs. In fact, it carries less than 1 percent of the intercity passenger traffic. That?s no way to run a railroad.
But Amtrak has staunch supporters in Congress. As the year progresses, we?ll be able to tell if the president?s plan is on track by watching the railroad. If its usual big subsidies end up in the final package, it will signal that the president?s pitch for fiscal responsibility has failed.
Another key program to watch is farm subsidies. The president wants to trim them by $8 billion over the next decade. That?s an excellent idea.
Farm subsidies are little more than corporate welfare. Though presented as a helping hand for small family farmers, two-thirds of these subsidies actually go to only 10 percent of the nation?s farm operators. Those aren?t families. They?re big agribusinesses that don?t need federal help to stay in business.
But on Capitol Hill, the farm lobby already is fighting to keep its share of the federal pie. As with Amtrak, the amount that Congress eventually devotes to farm subsidies in the final budget will be a good indication of whether President Bush got the budget he wanted.
The president needs to pilot the federal budget ship carefully. If he turns over the wheel to lawmakers, he won?t recognize the budget when it comes back to him.
However, if he stays involved in the process and insists that lawmakers work with him, there?s no reason we can?t arrive safely in port with a smaller federal budget -- and a lower burden on the American taxpayer.