n the wall of the drab main corridor in the municipal building of this town is a signed photograph of a politician. "I love Ennis," it says. "Phil Gramm."
Gramm is the congressman from here and it seems indeed as if he, or at least the federal government in which he serves, has been good to Ennis. The streets in the black and Mexican-American sections of town were paid for in part with federal funds; this year, the downtown sidewalks will be rebuilt, also with seed money from Washington.
The runway at the little airport west of town was built with a federal grant; even the local fire department is partly supported by the federal treasury. It plans to use revenue-sharing money to buy a lawnmower this year.
Yet Phil Gramm would like to change a lot of this. Last year he became one of the most prominent "boll weevil" Democrats in Congress by co-sponsoring President Reagan's budget cuts. If he and Reagan and others succeed, life in Ennis and almost every other community in the country will be dramatically changed. The question at the beginning of this newest battle of the budget is whether the people Phil Gramm represents will think those changes are for the better.
It is easy to lose sight of the reality of the federal budget at a time like this, when there is talk of new cuts, big deficits and a wholesale shift in programs to the states. Later on, when parliamentary words like "reconciliation" begin to slip into the lexicon of Washington again, that reality will fade even farther.
But there is a simpler way to look at the maze of numbers that has just been published. Think of it as just a series of checks mailed out from Washington to every corner of America. In Texas, for example:
* A little west of Ennis, Joshua is building a water treatment plant that is now the lifeblood for Joe Hook, a contractor for Venus Construction Co. The construction grant comes from the Environmental Protection Agency.
* In Venus, when the school district needed new kitchen equipment a few years ago, it found the $9,000 through the Agriculture Department.
* At Texas A&M University, Vergil Stover used $69,000 in Transportation Department money to fund an executive-development seminar for transit managers.
Some of the checks that flow daily from Washington are large and the programs that underwrite them well known: Social Security, food stamps, veterans' benefits, defense contracts.
Others are infinitesimal by federal standards and show up only as double asterisks in the budget document, too small to count. Oliver E. Meadows of Godley, Tex., is one of those asterisks. He was once a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission, and in 1980 the government spent something under $500 to bring him to Washington for a meeting.
Richard Wagner is a meat inspector at the Cleburne Meat Packing Co. He works for the state of Texas, but Washington helps pay his salary through a subsidy to the state.
Royce Cheyne owns Colquitt-Lacewell Pharmacy in Cleburne. About 15 percent of his business comes from Medicaid patients.
Phil Gramm's district stretches from the suburbs of Dallas and Fort Worth on the north down through the farm country of central Texas to Brazos County, home of Texas A&M, where Gramm taught economics before entering politics. While it is Democratic country, many people don't especially like the federal government.
"I tell them that every dollar they give their Father in Heaven their Uncle in Washington can't touch," says the Rev. Bruce Coggin of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Cleburne. "That's usually a powerful message near the end of the year."
Thus there is support for the president's economic program among many voters here.
Joe Hook's construction project in Joshua should be completed in six months. After that he hopes to get another federal contract, but additional budget cuts could cost him business. "Even though the budget cuts may hurt me, may cut me out, I'm definitely in favor of them. I think more of my nation and my country than I do of my business. Something had to be done to turn this country around."
John Sledge owns a Ford dealership in Cleburne. A big man with a husky voice, he says business is better for him now "than before the new people took over down in Washington." Interest rates have hurt, but he maintains a positive attitude and wants Reagan to keep going. "He looks like he's trying to put the affairs of the states in the hands of the states," Sledge said the other day. "I approve of that."
The recession and budget cuts have begun to bite here in Gramm's district, but so far only those most directly affected have lost faith in the president's program. The problem for the administration and its supporters is containing the pain, and that will become increasingly difficult if Reagan succeeds in winning additional budget cuts.
Curtis Moser runs the mechanical department for the Santa Fe Railroad's maintenance facility in Cleburne. On Dec. 11, the company, the biggest employer in town, laid off 314 of the shop's 1,050 workers, the first layoffs since 1975.
"There's no demand...," Moser said. "You've got to have carloadings to have a healthy business." But he sees the layoffs as unavoidable if the country is to achieve economic stability. "Our spending was getting out of hand," he adds. "I knew we had to make some adjustments. I feel like he's going in the right direction."
Jack Browder should have begun to feel the pinch of the budget cuts by now. He is the administrator of the Johnson County Memorial Hospital in Cleburne. Since October, his hospital has absorbed a slight cut in Medicare funding. "We haven't noticed it," he said. "It will have more effect on us this year."
But Browder too believes in the administration's program. "I don't think they've gone far enough," he declared. "I'm in favor of what he's doing. In the long run it will create more efficiency if everyone has to quit relying on federal money so much. That's what I hear from people I talk to. Of course, that may not be representative of the feelings of people without a job. It depends on where you are."
A line formed in the basement of the county courthouse in Cleburne. Budget cuts had shut down the local office of the Texas Employment Commission, and temporary quarters were established downtown. The theory behind the president's program is that a smaller federal government and lower taxes will eventually stimulate the private economy, bringing greater prosperity to more people than under the system he inherited from Jimmy Carter and the Democrats. But a different equation governed the attitudes of many people in this unemployment line: Reagan's budget and tax cuts had cost them their jobs.
Harold Campbell was one of the lucky ones in line. An exterminator wearing a bright green jacket with the words "Don't Bug Me" on his back and a belt buckle shaped like a gigantic fly, he was laid off by one company but was to start with another company on Monday.
"I think some of Reagan's cuts are good, but he's going too far," Campbell said. "He's cutting into the economy, into poor people. I thought his campaign promises were good. I believed in him. I believe in turning money back to the states, in turning back control. But I didn't realize he was going to get into these economic programs so much, the ones affecting poor people and low-income people."
For now the effect of the budget cuts in Phil Gramm's district, as elsewhere, are barely visible. People are learning to adapt to smaller railroad retirement benefits or reduced food stamp allotments. But if the administration and Congress continue to cut further, inevitably the sting will go deeper into these communities. Here in Ennis, that could affect everything from the library to the senior citizens' lunches to the streets in the poorest section of town, some of which are muddy ruts. Right now, all benefit from federal programs, and while Reagan and Gramm promise a better life, the number of skeptics is growing.