- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The United States has hit the debt ceiling that was just recently raised to $15.2 trillion. Any day now, President Obama will formally ask for it to be hiked another $1.2 trillion. Uncle Sam is burning through cash so fast that the government’s bills equal the total value of the goods and services produced by our economy.

If the current resident of the White House won’t cool it on borrowing, the country ought to look at the Republican alternative. Two things are essential to bringing the debt down and the economy up: reforming entitlement programs and cutting spending to less than the previous year’s expenditure. The candidates discussed how each would approach these key issues in the New Hampshire debate Sunday morning.

NBC’s David Gregory asked Jon Huntsman Jr. to name three areas where Americans will feel real pain in order to balance the budget. The former Utah governor smartly ignored the gimmicky question, instead saying he supports the House-passed budget crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, which would cut $6.2 trillion over 10 years. He also said he supports means testing for Medicare and cutting spending from 24 percent to 19 percent of gross domestic product. The other GOP candidates also favor statutory spending caps ranging from 18 percent to 20 percent.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania agreed with Mr. Huntsman and proposed block-granting entitlements for the poor - Medicaid, food stamps and housing programs - back to the states. The GOP field also backs this cost-saving move.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was the only one to name specific government agencies to cut, while also making a joke at his own expense, saying he would shut down the Departments of Commerce, Energy and Education. Texas Rep. Ron Paul has the boldest plan of all, to cut $1 trillion in the first year by eliminating five Cabinet departments (adding Interior and Housing and Urban Development to Mr. Perry’s list), ending all overseas wars and foreign aid, and driving everything else back to 2006 levels.

Front-runner Mitt Romney proposes cutting all non-security, discretionary spending by 5 percent his first year in office. The former Massachusetts governor would slash the federal payroll by hiring only one new bureaucrat for every two who leave. He supports moving Medicare to a premium-support system by 2022.

In his 59-point economic plan, Mr. Romney only says that for Social Security he would consider raising the retirement age and changing the way benefits are indexed for inflation to deal with Social Security, whereas Mr. Perry openly calls for these necessary changes. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich would create optional private retirement accounts as an alternative for younger workers and do the same for Medicare.

Having good plans is one thing, but being good at execution is another. As Mr. Perry pointed out, some in the GOP have been big spenders, and “let’s be honest with ourselves. I mean, the fact of the matter is that Obama has thrown gasoline on the fire, but the bonfire was burning well before Obama got there.”

Our next president needs to be able to assure the American people that he will extinguish the debt inferno.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.