Afghanistan adds to Obama’s increasingly pricey plans
President Obama’s plan to up the ante in the Afghanistan war faces a major obstacle in Congress: paying the tab.
The president insists that lawmakers should not put a price tag on national security, but every item on Mr. Obama’s ambitious agenda — from health care reform to another proposed jobcreation bill — is threatened by the grim budget reality of a stagnant economy, colossal deficits and record levels of public debt.
Top Democrats say they will fund the war with a supplemental spending bill outside the regular appropriations process, likely sparking a budget battle within the president’s own party over wars that already cost taxpayers nearly $11 billion a month.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said Dec. 1 that every member of the Democratic caucus will be asking whether the president’s war plan is “worth the investment.”
“There is significant concern about whether or not we can be successful in Afghanistan,” Mr. Hoyer told reporters, “that the in- vestment in doing so will be ing spree coincides with a record worth the investment.” $1.4 trillion federal deficit in fis
Mr. Obama’s plan to send cal 2009, more than the deficits about 30,000 more U.S. troops to from the previous four years Afghanistan, estimated to cost an combined. That helped push U.S. extra $30 billion next year, adds debt, mostly to foreign powers to the red ink spread by the $787 such as China, to almost $12 trilbillion stimulus package, the $700 lion. billion Wall Street bailout (imDeficit spending and the ensuplemented under President ing debt can help increase ecoGeorge W. Bush), a proposed nomic growth during a recession. nearly $1 trillion health care The idea of another stimulus overhaul, expanded jobless benpackage received a boost Nov. 30 efits, and a growing groundswell when the nonpartisan Congresfor another economic stimulus sional Budget Office issued a repackage that Democrats have port that found the $787 billion dubbed a “jobs bill.” package enacted in February had
Mr. Obama vowed to address lifted U.S. gross domestic product cost concerns with Congress. by 1 percent to 3 percent and had
“All told, by the time I took ofraised employment by 600,000 to fice, the cost of the wars in Iraq 1.6 million jobs through the end and Afghanistan approached $1 of September. trillion. Going forward, I am comHowever, the long-term consemitted to addressing these costs quences for the economy of the openly and honestly,” Mr. Obama spending sprees could be dire. said when unveiling his war plan Risks include rising interest rates in a prime-time, televised adand a falling value for the U.S. doldress on Dec. 1. lar.
“Our new approach in awmakers will be asked to Afghanistan is likely to cost us raise the debt ceiling another $1 roughly $30 billion for the militrillion before Congress adjourns tary this year, and I will work this year. The move is required to closely with Congress to address prevent the United States from these costs as we work to bring defaulting on its debt payments, down our deficit.” but a bipartisan group of more
The administration´s spend-than a dozen senators is threaten- ing to oppose raising the ceiling unless Congress passes legislation to cut the deficit.
Democrats also are painfully aware of the criticism they heaped upon the Bush administration for funding the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts with supplemental spending bills that they said obscured the costs of the wars and drove up deficits and debt.
The administration’s request also conflicts with statements by the Obama White House earlier this year that an “emergency” supplemental spending bill to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the balance of the 2009 fiscal year would be the last time the process would be employed.
“This will be the last supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in April. “The process by which this has been funded in the past [. . . ] will change, and this will be the last time.”
The supplemental war-spending bill for Mr. Obama’s new Afghanistan offensive is expected to go before lawmakers early next year and spark heated debate over the war strategy and its cost.
Spending bills traditionally bring war debates to the fore in Congress. In recent years, Democrats used them to challenge Mr. Bush’s war policy for Iraq with failed attempts to cut off funds or impose timetables to wind down the U.S. engagement.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress has approved roughly $944 billion for military operations — virtually all of that for Iraq and Afghanistan — with Iraq getting about 72 percent of the money. At the peak of the troop surge in Iraq in 2008, the wars cost $180 billion.
The cost has since declined, with Mr. Obama requesting about $130 billion for 2010 to fight both wars. Congress is still debating the final 2010 defense spending bill, which is the first time the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were included in the regular appropriations bills.
“Unfortunately over the last eight years, we’ve been funding these military operations by deficit spending and we can’t keep doing that, not only in military operations but also in every other program,” said Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat. “We’ve got to be concerned.”