Rep. David Obey (D., Wis.) has proposed a controversial approach to funding the war in Iraq: Raise taxes to pay for it. Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, wants President Bush to stop pretending the war costs nothing while passing the bill onto a future administration.
Obey's bill hasn't received much support and is especially distasteful to the Democratic leadership. But lack of support doesn't concern Obey. He says the legislation calls Bush's bluff on newfound fiscal responsibility. Obey's bill gets to the heart of issues I've noticed are conspicuously absent from the national debate: the deficit and the national debt. Now, not four years down the line, is the time to have the discussion about the opportunity cost of war. Debate is crucial now, when the money we're pouring into Iraq might be better served investing in America's ability to compete in a global marketplace. Bush is the first president in our history not to ask Americans to sacrifice during a time of war. In fact, the president did the opposite. He passed tax cuts that mostly benefited the wealthy and told Americans to go shopping after 9/11. Obey points out that we spend more than $10 billion a month in Iraq and that the only people asked to sacrifice are military families. To date, more than 3,800 soldiers have died in Iraq; another 27,700 have been wounded.
Today, however, the president asserted his own brand of fiscal responsibility by vetoing the SCHIP bill, which would provide health insurance for low-income children. Obey sees a problem with Bush's priorities: "The president is objecting to the fact that we are trying to depart from his domestic budget request by some $22 billion, an amount about one tenth as large as the amount that the President wants to spend again this year in Iraq." White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told Reuters there was "no need" to raise taxes because Bush has a plan in place to balance the budget in by 2012. Of course, this would be four years after Bush has left office. It appears that the president plans to leave the war in Iraq and the deficit to his successor. Almost makes me wonder why anyone would want the job. The national debt today stands at a little over $9 trillion . The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has predicted government spending is unsustainable, in large part because of the increase in entitlement programs like the Medicare Reform Act of 2003. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has the 2007 federal deficit pegged at $158 billion. Obey says he doesn't want to see a continuation of the status quo. Any supplemental legislation would have to meet three standards: 1) end the Iraq occupation by January 2009, 2) ensure troops have adequate rest at home, and 3) demonstrate intensive diplomatic efforts to resolve conflict.
Obey knows his proposals are controversial but believes the time has come for hard choices: "If such a proposal is not passed, and the war continues, one of two things will happen. We will either run up insurmountable debts, or we will drain the treasury dry of funds that are essential to making the domestic investments in education, health, medical research, science, law enforcement, that are crucial to creating a stronger country and more prosperous families." Whether reasonable people agree with Obey or not, he does have a point. It's time to discuss that we're investing our national treasure in the sands of Iraq at the expense of America's ability to compete globally. China isn't making that same mistake.