The panhandlers and winos have been temporarily ousted from the capital's subway and supermarket entrances and other daily migratory paths of solvent citizens.

Their place has been taken by bright little sales ladies cheerfully - and relentlessly - pushing Girl Scout cookies. Roving bands of Brownies, order forms in hand, prowl the suburbs in search of flush adults.Moreover, if the stacks of cookie boxes in our hallway are any indication, the streets would be jammed with Edsels today if the Girl Scouts had been given the job of peddling that ill-fated machine.

The government is saddled with a seemingly intractable problem - the national debt - when right under its nose the solution has presented itself. The answer to getting the nation out of hock: National Debt Cookies.

Suppose each January, the Internal Revenue Service mails out, along with the Form 1040s, order forms for 100 boxes of National Debt Cookies. In addition to filing income tax returns, the taxpayer has until April 15 to sell cookies.

No cookies, no refund.

The national debt comes out to about $14,500 per person. We're not expecting everybody to sell $14,500 worth of cookies in 14 weeks; it may take a couple of years to pay off $3.2 trillion.

On the other hand, the debt is going up a billion dollars a day, so it's not enough to sit around the house waiting for the orders to roll in. You have to get out there and sell.

May could become an especially festive month, the time when National Debt Cookies are delivered to their buyers - relatives, neighbors, co-workers, and, in border areas, our friends in Canada and Mexico.

Taxpayers who sell more than their quotas could receive some kind of reward - a flashy merit badge, advance notice of major S&L seizures, frequent flier miles on Air Force One, or - how about this? - a private number at the IRS that produces instant, accurate tax advice.

Cookie sales could be made part of official government duties.

When Secretary of State James Baker is finished negotiating with a grateful Mideast leader, he might mention - subtly, no arm-twisting - as he wraps up the talks: "By the way, emir, I have these delicious cookies for sale. How many can I put you down for? Say, about 2 billion boxes?"

Without being coercive about it, the government could help sales by handing out cookies at opportune times.

The federal departure tax on international travel is $6. This is not a "user fee" for customs or security; it's just a last-ditch lunge at the traveler's wallet.

You could probably triple the tax with no complaints by throwing in a box of cookies. "What a great country!" departing travelers would say. "They gave me this box of pecan sandies as a going-away present."

I am asking nothing for this splendid idea, only a little help with the dental bills.