Surge of their own: Dems push new war tax
After years of putting the cost of war on the nation’s credit card, liberal members of Congress say the time has come to impose a new war tax and drive home to average Americans how expensive it is to keep fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The call for a tax on high-income earners, coming from top Democrats in the House and Senate, signals a deep level of concern in President Obama’s own party about his plans to escalate the battle in Afghanistan.
“The only people who’ve paid any price for our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan are our military families,” three top House Democrats, led by Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey of Wisconsin, said in announcing their proposal last month. “We believe that if this war is to be fought, it’s only fair that everyone share the burden.”
Republicans say the tax idea isn’t going anywhere and argue that of all the reasons to go further into debt, defense should be at the top.
“The Democrats are willing to bust the budget to pass a do- mestic program that the American people are against, but all of a sudden find it offensive to do something that is absolutely essential to the secur ity of Americans here in the United States, which is to keep on offense in the war on terror,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said on CNN.
The Defense Department said that through this summer it was spending about $10 billion a month to keep up the war efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and congressional estimates have put the cost of sending more troops at $1 million per soldier per year.
House Democrats’ Share the Sacrifice Act of 2010 would require the president to set a surtax level so that it fully pays for the previous year’s war costs. It would give the president discretion to delay the tax if he deems the economy too weak.
Mr. Obey is joined by Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, and Rep. John B. Larson, Connecticut Democrat.
The three men said they fear the costs of the war will crowd out the social reforms Democrats are trying to push through after having captured control of Congress and the White House for the first time since the early years of the Clinton administration.
“I have to look at the entire federal budget as chairman of the committee, for instance,” Mr. Obey said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I have to see what $400 billion or $500 billion, $600 billion, $700 billion, over a decade, for this effort, will cost us on education, on our efforts to build the entire economy.”
In the Senate, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, has proposed creating a higher tax bracket to pay for the wars — though over the Nov. 28-29 weekend he said he doubts it’s a good idea right now.
“Well, in the middle of a recession, we’re probably not going to be able to increase taxes to pay for it,” Mr. Levin said Nov. 29 on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “There should have been, as far as I’m concerned, tax increases long ago on upper-bracket folks who did so well during the Bush years. That’s where the tax increases should have taken place. But that should have happened some time ago.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sounded open to the new tax in a conference call with bloggers and reporters two weeks ago but said she would have to wait to hear President Obama’s Afghanistan plan before making any decisions.
“It is obviously part of the debate. Mr. Obey insists that it be,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “But I think the American people believe that if it’s something that’s in our national security interest — we have to be able to afford it. That doesn’t mean, though, that we hold everything else — you know, we say that everything else has to be paid for.”
When a similar proposal for a war tax was floated in 2007, Mrs. Pelosi quashed the idea.
Leaning on an artificial tax to cover the cost of the war while undercutting U.S. efforts to fight would be “disingenuous,” said Frederick W. Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.
Congressional support for the war will hinge on the “extent that leadership is captive of the radical progressive agenda,” Mr. Kagan said. “Certain members of the progressive caucus see this as very attractive because it has the chance of increasing the unpopularity of the war.”
Perhaps the Senate’s most liberal member, Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, said that if the president is going to spend for more troops, the cost cannot be passed on to younger generations.
“If you’re going to have a presence there, you just can’t pass the bill on, as we did in Iraq, to our kids and our grandchildren. I think that’s wrong. I think that’s immoral,” Mr. Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin has proposed creating a higher tax bracket to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but admits this might not be the right time.