Surge of their own: Dems push new war tax

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - BY TOM LOBIANCO

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.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS/CBS

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.

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