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CUT CORPORATE SUBSIDIES, TOO

A new budget-cutting orthodoxy is taking a well-deserved place alongside the standard denunciations of waste, fraud and abuse, bureaucratic bloat and simple pork - namely, the imperative of slashing "corporate welfare."

Everyone from conservative GOP presidential hopeful Phil Gramm to Secretary of Labor Robert Reich is on board. From the libertarian Cato Institute to the Progressive Policy Institute, the fiscally responsible have "aid to dependent corporations" in their sights. At least, they say they do.It's about time. Long have the powerful used their political influence to wheedle all manner of tax breaks and direct subsidies. Nor can the offenders be crudely branded "Republican Businessmen." Congresses dominated by Democrats have written most budgets of recent decades. Indeed, the urge to funnel benefits to prominent constituents and big campaign contributors is robust in politicians generally.

Can they master it? Politicians often are selective in their wish to see the private sector stand on its own private feet. As Scripps Howard News Service puts it, "Clintonites have a soft spot for what one critic calls `technopork,' benefiting the likes of Texas Instruments, 3M, Chrysler Corp., Boeing, Rockwell and Hewlett Packard. Western politicians balk at making the timber industry pay for roads the Forest Service builds for its benefit on federal lands. Farmstate representatives protect farmers' costly and irrational dole."

True budget reform seems bound to be no less contentious when it comes to eliminating corporate welfare than it has already proved in debates over entitlements for the elderly and the poor. Genuine deficit-cutters must demonstrate their seriousness across the board.