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So the federal budget has been trimmed so much that little or no fat is left, has it?

That's what plenty of people in Congress keep claiming. And their claims get louder and more anguished every time Washington takes another stab at obeying the Gramm-Rudman law, which aims eventually at a balanced budget.Admittedly, as time goes by, the job of balancing the budget gets harder. Consequently, Washington is going to find a tax increase more attractive despite President Bush's repeated opposition to any such hike.

But just try telling anyone not on the receiving end of federal handouts that the budget is a bare-bones spending plan. Or just try describing the budget that way to certain people who don't face re-election and whose careers don't depend on spending others' money.

People, for instance, like those at a couple of think-tanks called the Heritage Foundation and Citizens Against Government Waste. A few days ago, they compiled a long list of some of the specific items in the federal budget. Here are just a few of them:

- A $25 million subsidy for a private airport in House Speaker Jim Wright's district.

- $6 million for track repairs for a private railroad owned by the Soo Line Railroad Company.

- $150,000 for pea and lentil research and Washington State University.

- $188,000 to help develop a strategy for exporting Mahi Mahi fish.

- $700,000 for a Census Bureau project to count trees, shrubs, and ornamental flowers.

- $2.1 million for as national survey of American sexual habits and attitudes.

- $1 million for killer bee research.

- $6.4 billion for construction of a Bavarian-style ski resort in Idaho.

- $170,000 for a Dunkin Donuts store in Lawton, Okla.

- $750,000 for research on fish net entanglement.

- $11 million for construction of a harbor for private pleasure boats in Cleveland.

- $400,000 for research on alternative uses of North Dakota oilseeds.

- $13 million for repairs on a privately-owned dam in South Carolina.

- $100,000 for research into taste aversion to beets and liver.

Likewise, the government could save $700 million a year by eliminating military commissaries in areas where they are not needed. Commissaries were created in the 1800's to provide food to isolated outposts. Today more than 80 percent of commissaries are located within 10 miles of two or more supermarkets.

Then there's the Rural Electrification Administration, which was created in 1935 to bring electricity and later telephone service to rural areas. The REA still distributes $2 billion a year in new loans even though 99 percent of rural residents now have electricity and 96 percent have telephone service.

The list goes on and on. It includes many programs and services that are helpful. But Congress will have a needlessly hard time balancing the budget as long as it fails to distinguish between what's merely desirable and what's essential.

Meanwhile, the prevalence of such non-essential spending emphasizes the need to equip the President with a line-item veto, which most governors have long used to kill specific spending items instead of being forced to accept or reject an entire appropriations bill.