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Age-old argument

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It wasn't easy, but 9th graders at Winter Park High School in Florida have drafted a $182 billion savings plan to balance the federal budget.

Their work so impressed U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., that he slated a two-hour visit to the school late last week.

The fantasy budget proposal began when a Washington correspondent for an Orlando, Fla., newspaper challenged readers to find ways to cut this year's $176 billion federal deficit.

When the results were published in The Orlando Sentinel, the writer, Craig Crawford, said the students got "piping hot mad" because readers wanted to cut college-loan programs by 53 percent while sparing Social Security and Medicare.

When the students complained, he invited them to do better.

With calculators, pens, and axes in hand, 84 students in Larry Storch's three economics classes went to work.

They proposed cutting Medicare by 17 percent and Social Security by 10 percent. Defense would take the biggest hit, with a 20 percent reduction.

"They were thoughtful and debated it before their final proposal," Mr. Storch said of his students.

When Mr. Crawford earlier this month published the students' plan and the rationale behind their cuts, he sparked another rhetorical brush fire between the generations.

"Farm subsidies--that was the category that was the most puzzling to us, making us wonder why the government was spending so much money on such a cause," wrote students Annie Shulz and Mimi Dugout.

Katie Wood said she wanted to cut $45 billion from federal salaries because "I feel the politicians get paid way too much to just sit there and argue over the chicken or the egg."

"The first thing we did was cut Medicare by $115 billion because it is basically useless to spend so much money on a group of people who are going to die soon anyway," one student wrote.

That comment in particular angered local retirees, many of whom phoned the school or wrote letters to protest, Mr. Storch said. Still, he said the reaction was part of the learning experience for his students.

In his visit, Senator Graham was likely to find at least one area of agreement with student Cheryl Thompson.

"We cannot successfully cut the budget satisfying the whole nation," she concluded.

--Robert C. Johnston

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