- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2012

It has been more than three years (1,112 days, to be precise) since the U.S. Senate last passed a budget. The last time Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid fulfilled his legal responsibility, Conan O’Brien was still on NBC, Tea Parties hadn’t come together, and the iPad hadn’t yet been introduced.

There is no excuse for this. The Senate needs only 51 votes to pass a budget. Democrats have had well over that for President Obama’s entire term, yet they refuse to even offer a plan.

The Senate must pass a budget if we are going to halt Washington’s disastrous habit of overspending, overborrowing and overtaxing our fragile economy. While liberals sit on the sidelines saying “no,” conservatives are offering solutions.

Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, and others have put credible and thoughtful plans on the table. But I am happy to report that a member of the Senate has put forward a plan that directly confronts all of the major economic challenges our nation faces.

Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, has introduced a budget resolution that mirrors the bold and thorough reforms the Heritage Foundation first proposed in our comprehensive program, “Saving the American Dream.”

Mr. Lee’s plan is a strong blueprint for restraining and ultimately reducing our nation’s massive debt, cutting Washington’s out-of-control spending and above all, restoring our nation’s economic prosperity. It’s the only way we can make sure future generations aren’t saddled with a debt that keeps them from having the same opportunity of achieving the American Dream.

The reaction from those who want to continue the status quo is predictable. They will demagogue Mr. Lee and other conservatives for wanting to throw grandma over the cliff. How blind - and irresponsible. If we fail to act, then spending under programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will balloon unchecked. Eventually, the nation will effectively go bankrupt. The truth is that the president’s health reform law magnified the financial problem while already ending Medicare as we know it.

Instead of making promises Congress has no chance of keeping even with massive tax hikes, Social Security and Medicare should provide seniors with a reasonable, affordable and predicable benefit that protects seniors from the threat of living in poverty.

Under the Lee budget, Social Security becomes true insurance that supplements income for retirees who need it. For the more affluent, benefits will be quickly restored in cases of sudden reversals.

By completing the transition begun years ago to a premium-support program, Medicare would assist seniors in buying the affordable health coverage they want and need from a marketplace that would have been freed to be more competitive. Similar approaches in Medicare Part D and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (the plan Congress enjoys) have resulted in lower health care costs and higher value in the delivery of care.

This budget finally addresses one of the biggest problems with the health care industry - ever-rising costs. Mr. Lee proposes changing the outdated tax treatment of health insurance so that every American receives a tax credit (equal to what they get today in the workplace) to buy and own health coverage that meets individual needs.

This can be done without federal mandates that intrude upon the moral, religious and philosophical sensibilities of the American public. At the same time, the Lee budget resolution redesigns the federal tax code into an expenditure tax that has a single flat rate. That’s right - a single, simple and fair tax system.

The plan encourages more savings, benefiting every American who dreams of going to college, buying a house or starting a business. Greater savings and a less punitive business tax also mean more resources to invest and more opportunities to invest in our economy. That also means more jobs for Americans who are out of work and better wages for those who have jobs.

By substantially reducing the size and scope of the federal government, Mr. Lee’s plan rightfully moves government toward its core responsibilities that fit within the Constitution and original intent of our Founding Fathers.

Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).