With President Barack Obama expected to announce his plan for Afghanistan on Dec. 1, the debate about how to pay for the war is heating up. The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, wants 40,000 more troops. Obama’s plan would send 34,000 during the next year, U.S. officials told McClatchy Newspapers.House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey opposes any increase in the 68,000-member U.S. force in Afghanistan. But now that a surge appears inevitable, he and some other top Democrats are demanding a new tax to cover the expense of the war. Various estimates put the annual cost at $500,000 to $1 million per soldier.
“If we don’t pay for it, the cost of the Afghan war will wipe out every initiative we have to rebuild our own economy,” the Wisconsin Democrat told ABC News. Obey, who came into office in 1969, said that’s what happened during the Vietnam War.
If the war is to be fought, “it’s only fair that everyone share the burden,” said a joint statement from Obey, House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson and Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha.
Their proposal would impose a 1 percent levy on middle-class taxpayers. Those earning more would be taxed at a higher rate, depending on how much is needed for the war. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin has also talked about a war tax, but only for the wealthy.
The lawmakers don’t expect Congress to actually pass any war tax, Murtha acknowledged. They just want everyone to think about what escalating the war will do to the deficit, especially at a time when there’s so much concern about spending on economic stimulus and health care reform.
“The politics of the move are vulgar and obvious,” said National Review’s Kevin Williamson ,who opposes the war tax idea because, well … it’s a tax. He noted that taxes imposed for temporary emergencies have a way of becoming permanent.
Antiwar.com’s Justin Raimondo is against the idea because the war “doesn’t have to be paid for; it has to be ended.” The only way to end it, he wrote, is for most members of Congress to refuse to fund it.
A new CNN poll shows Americans are evenly split over whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. TIME’s Joe Klein is among those in favor of continuing the war.
“I’d be more than willing to pay my fair share. … The notion of shared sacrifice has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle,” Klein said. “For Republicans who favor the war but oppose taxation, this would be a particularly crucial test of citizenship.”
This debate over the cost of war is only about dollars, of course. The budget calculations don’t include the number of Americans who will be killed or wounded as the fighting drags on. There’s no way to put a price tag on that.