- By Annie LowreyAnnie Lowrey is assistant editor at FP.
Today, U.S. President Barack Obama is announcing his plan to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. This is, he says, the endgame; the White House press secretary has reportedly indicated that Obama plans to end major military operations within three years. But, in the meantime, Congress will have to figure out how to pay for all of those soldiers, who will cost an estimated $1 million each to deploy.
To that end, Rep. David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat and the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, last month introduced the Share the Sacrifice Act of 2010. It makes the war in Afghanistan pay-go, with a progressive tax (that would amount to an additional one percent of income tax for average-income Americans, and more for bigger earners) gauged to prior-year war spending. If we spend $100 billion on Afghanistan one year, the tax raises $100 billion the next; if we spend $1, it raises $1.
It’s an obviously sensible idea. To date, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are the only ones the United States has funded without raising taxes — mostly by running multibillion-dollar deficits and borrowing 40 percent of the wars’ costs from other countries, who will have to be paid back, plus interest, in the future. (George W. Bush famously cut taxes during wartime.)
But Congressional sources, The Cable reported, have said that the bill will never reach the House floor, let alone Obama’s desk. It’s galling not just because the bill makes some obvious sense. It’s shocking because it was a very moderate measure that would have covered just a sliver of the cost of war to the United States. The Share the Sacrifice Act sought to pay for only the yearly cost of Afghanistan war operations: not the aggregate cost of Afghanistan, or the interest the United States needs to pay its creditors, or the aggregate cost of both wars, or down-the-road costs (like healthcare and social security for added troops or the cost of replacing and repairing equipment).
Through 2009, the United States has spent $944 billion on Iraq and Afghanistan, with more than 70 percent of funds going to the former war. For 2010, the requested budget is $139 billion — with $63 billion apportioned for Afghanistan. The Obey bill would have raised just that $63 billion with a tax levied in 2011 (and the option for presidential deferment if the economy hadn’t recovered). That’s 6 percent of aggregate spending over the past nine years.
In a smart post about the subject, Matt Yglesias writes, “The reaction to David Obey’s ‘war tax’ idea is telling — nobody seems to really think there are national interests at stake that are critical enough to be worth paying slightly higher taxes for. But if a war’s not worth paying for, how can it be worth fighting? And if we don’t pay for the war in the FY 2010 budget, we still need to pay back the loans.”
It’s worth remembering that Obey was attempting to fund just 6 percent of the war with income raised from taxes.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |