-- Then there's the 600-page bill offered by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who made a name for himself as "Dr. No" by blocking hundreds of pork-barrel spending earmarks. His plan would yield $9 trillion in savings over 10 years through spending cuts, deep entitlement reforms and eliminating a laundry list of tax breaks.
This is probably the most ambitious plan before Congress, but it has flaws. Getting rid of tax loopholes is certainly a worthy goal, but only if you use those revenue increases to correspondingly lower corporate and individual tax rates to get the U.S. economy growing again.
The biggest part of the government's deficit troubles, next to the explosion in Social Security and Medicare costs, is weak economic growth, which has flattened revenues and ballooned the deficits. We have a huge spending problem that needs to be curtailed, but we also have an anemic growth rate that is limping along at less than 2 percent when it should be growing at more than 5 percent. Both have fed the debt monster.
-- Then there is the compromise plan cooked up in the Senate by Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow Obama to increase the debt ceiling in three installments for a total of $2.5 trillion. Congress would vote on a resolution of disapproval, but even if both houses disapproved of his actions, he would exercise his veto.
McConnell's plan would cut $1.5 trillion over 10 years and create a 12-member committee to produce a package of reforms by year's end that would cut trillions from entitlements.
The Republicans would be able to blame Obama for worsening the debt (it's risen $3 trillion under his presidency), America would keep its AAA credit rating, and the government would pay its bills.
This plan, too, has flaws. First, $1.5 trillion isn't going to make much of a dent in excessive discretionary spending. Second, does anyone seriously expect Congress to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits in an election year? Don't hold your breath.
Somewhere in these proposals there lies a combination of ideas that could significantly curb spending, but it hasn't been put together yet. The monster deficit cannot be slain without deep, permanent spending cuts and strong economic growth that pounds unemployment down to below 6 percent, which isn't on the horizon under this president.
Sad to say, but the deficit monster will likely survive this year's budget battle until America votes to change the country's direction in the 2012 election.