he cliche about making sausage -- that you don't really want to see how it's done -- came to mind last week as Congress put the finishing touches on a long-overdue appropriations package for the fiscal year that began over four months ago.

We like the end result because the $1 billion set aside for Amtrak recognizes the valuable role of rail travel in our national transportation system.

We like it because language relating to our maritime cabotage laws makes it possible for a cruise line to base cruise ships in Hawaii.

And we like it because it earmarks $50 million for promotion of the U.S. as a destination overseas. This expenditure will enable the U.S., finally, to rejoin the rest of the civilized world in recognizing and promoting the contributions that travel and tourism make to economic development, employment, the balance of payments and, yes, world peace.

So to the extent that the appropriations bill gets these things done, it is a good thing.

But the more we look at the way these things got done, the more we wish for a better thing.

Government, of course, is a pragmatic business. To govern is to make things work. In a system built on checks, balances and compromises, the legislative process is often ugly and the end result never perfect.

In a word, sausage.

In the case of the appropriations bill, the end result was a package of compromises cobbled together at the last minute, workable short-term solutions to get us through the rest of the fiscal year.

But the process leaves us without a long-term plan for allowing rail travel to reach its full potential in the Northeast Corridor and elsewhere in this country.

We still await a comprehensive overhaul of the century-old maritime laws that keep our cruise industry in a regulatory straight jacket.

We still lack a permanent framework for funding an ongoing public-private promotion of the U.S. as a tourist destination.

For now, we can thank our elected representatives for a job reasonably well done. But as we thank Congress for this sausage -- not to say pork -- we pine for more elegant solutions.

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Hooters Air

he most remarkable thing about Hooters Air, which starts charter service next month, may have nothing to do with the Hooters Girls and their tight T-shirts.

The remarkable thing may be faith.

Hooters Air represents the willingness of an entrepreneur with an established brand to expose that brand to the ill winds of one of the sickest segments of U.S. industry today, air transportation.

Tacky or not, that represents an act of faith that we find truly remarkable.

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