Article published Saturday, May 28, 2011, at Fox News.

Who Has the Best Plans to Rescue America from the Budget Crisis?

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Who has the best plans to fight the budget crisis? Well, it seem that the Democrats do not even have a plan, or perhaps they secretly have one but are embarrassed to release it. Either way, Democrats are stubbornly refusing to release any budget plan. Instead, they just complain about the two that have been presented so far.

Thus when the Senate voted on budget plans this week, Senators considered two options but neither one received a single yes-vote from a Democrat.

One proposal, the House Republican budget, the so-called "Ryan plan," was attacked by Democrats as "draconian” or “unconscionable." The other option was President Obama's plan from February. But as The Hill newspaper reported: “the Democratic caucus would not support the [president’s February] plan because it has been supplanted by the deficit-reduction plan Obama outlined at a speech at George Washington University in April.”

So why not vote on the April plan? It is understandable that the Democrats would want to go with the old plan, after all the Congressional Budget Office reported that Obama’s February plan actually increased coming deficits by $1.2 trillion.

Yet, Senate Democrats couldn't vote on the new one because there really isn't a new Obama plan yet, just an outline with trillions in unspecified cuts. Ironically, the vote was in the Senate, where the Democrats hold a solid majority. But there was no Democrat Senate plan, at least one that they would show anyone.

Senate Democrats let everyone know last week that they had agreed on $2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade, but they just won't tell anyone where those reductions will take place.

The Democrats' strategy is simple. State loudly that they are cutting the deficit, but don't tell people what programs are being cut. When the Republicans actually put forward a specific plan, falsely scream that Republicans are going to "abolish Medicare" and leave poor people out in the cold.

Despite the dire problems we face with the nation’s debt, some in the media, such as at The Washington Post, have actually been defending Democrats' decision not to put forward a specific plan.

A little perspective is needed on the cuts. Federal spending soared by 28 percent from 2008 to 2011, rising from $2.98 to $3.82 trillion. In February, Obama proposed spending $46 trillion over the next ten years. Cutting $2 trillion, as the Senate Democrats say they plan doing, is only a 4 percent cut.

The "draconian" House Republican budget cuts spending by less than 10 percent, still leaving government much bigger than in 2008 even after accounting for inflation and population growth.

But more can be done. Five separate think tanks have come out with ways to control government debt over the last couple of weeks. Two are conservative organizations, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. Two are liberal ones, the Economic Policy Institute and the Roosevelt Institute. And one is moderate, the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Only the Heritage Foundation would balance the budget in the next ten years. The other proposals never get a balanced budget, they just hope that if government spending grows at a slightly slower rate than the economy, that we can grow our way out of the deficits.

There are big differences in their approaches. The liberal groups cut defense spending, while the conservative groups slow the Pentagon's growth rate.

The Heritage Foundation has the most ambitious plans for Social Security and Medicare, returning them to what they originally promised: programs that would keep the elderly out of poverty. The programs would be eliminated for individuals making over $110,000 a year.

The liberal groups would leave Social Security alone and control government costs by making government bigger -- creating a government option for health care.

Alas, these proposals don’t question whether many programs should be eliminated altogether. Instead, the approach is keep the existing programs and impose an across the board freeze or cut everything by the same amount.

With the Federal debt of $14.3 trillion amounting to $185,000 for every family of four, at some point we have to concede that the federal checkbook has its limits. Cuts in spending are only a start, other programs need to be abolished or radically changed.

The Social Security and Medicare reforms proposed by the Heritage Foundation are much more radical than anything that Republicans are proposing. These programs have long gotten away from being a safety net. Their benefits have grown much faster than inflation over the last several decades. If people want more than a guaranteed minimum retirement plan, they can save for it.

Fix the rate that benefits grow so that they just keep pace with inflation. The federal government should completely stop subsidizing politically approved businesses. If an investment makes sense, entrepreneurs will invest their own money.

Much of what the Department of Commerce and all of what the Small Business Administration does could be scrapped, along with everything from high-speed trains to so-called “green” energy. Trains were run for a long time in the U.S. without the government operating them.

Stop subsidizing farmers, they aren’t different than any other business. We can simply privatize Amtrak. Sell off the post office and air traffic control, as many other countries have done.

Why subsidize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that generally serves well-to-do individuals?

And there are smaller examples of wasted spending, too. The government shouldn't spend $80,000 studying why the same college basketball teams dominate March Madness or $315,000 to study FarmVille on Facebook or $50,000 on a rap song called “Biogas is a Gas, Gas, Gas.” If academics want to do those things, they don't need extra government money to do them.

Everybody wants things for free. And many have gotten accustomed to the government giving us whatever we wanted. But we forgot that someone ultimately has to pay for those benefits. Our children already face a huge bill.

John R. Lott Jr. is a contributor. He is an economist and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2010), the third edition of which was published in May.".

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