Michael Tanner‘s latest column at National Review Online looks into leading national Republicans’ approach to massive federal debt.

With our national debt now passing the $18 trillion mark, and rising at the rate of $40 to $50 billion per month, it is worth taking a look at where the putative Republican presidential candidates stand on the question. Do they see it as a major issue? Would they deal with it by cutting spending or raising taxes? Are they willing to take the political heat in order to reform the entitlements (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) that are the real drivers of the debt? Or are they content to offer platitudes about cutting “fraud, waste, and abuse”?

It’s early, of course, and would-be candidates have just begun to put together their platforms, so its not surprising that there isn’t a great deal of specificity yet. This is particularly true for governors, who have generally had less opportunity or need to weigh in on national issues. Senators have at least had to cast some votes along the way. Still, we can find some clues by looking at how governors have handled their state budgets. And nearly all the candidates have offered at least a few hints as to where the debt stands among their priorities and what they might do to address it.

Tanner offers a candidate-by-candidate assessment. Here are a couple of his more interesting observations:

Rand Paul: Although Paul has attracted more publicity about his libertarian positions on civil liberties and foreign policy, he has actually been among the Senate’s biggest deficit hawks, warning, “I truly believe that the number-one threat to our national security is our debt.” He opposed the Ryan budget, claiming it did not go far enough. Instead, he introduced his own budget proposal, which would have balanced in just five years, and which entailed massive spending cuts. That budget illustrated both the promise and the perils of a Paul candidacy. It was a true fiscally conservative road map toward less spending and smaller government, perhaps the most aggressive such proposal in decades, but it attracted just 18 votes in the Senate. Paul backs a premium-support plan for Medicare and the block-granting of Medicaid to the states. Surprisingly, however, he has not backed personal accounts for Social Security, calling instead for more traditional benefit reductions such as means testing and raising the retirement age. …

Ted Cruz: Senator Cruz has been an unwavering fiscal hawk, arguing that we must “cut federal spending as much and as quickly as possible.” He has backed a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, saying, “We need to pass a strong balanced-budget amendment. We need to stop bankrupting our country. Right now our kids and grandkids are inheriting a country where our national debt is larger than the size of our entire economy. . . . If we keep on this road, they will spend their entire lives, not to meet the needs of the future, not to meet the needs of their priorities, but instead, just working to pay off the debts that their deadbeat parents and grandparents stuck them with.” Cruz supports personal accounts for Social Security and raising the eligibility age; for Medicare, he would also increase the eligibility age, and offer premium support.