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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Who Should Pay for the War?

Thomas Friedman says we are through the looking glass:

Charge It to My Kids, by Thomas Friedman, Commentary, NY Times: Every so often a quote comes out of the Bush administration that leaves you asking: Am I crazy or are they? I had one of those moments last week when Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, was asked about a proposal by some Congressional Democrats to levy a surtax to pay for the Iraq war, and she responded, “We’ve always known that Democrats seem to revert to type, and they are willing to raise taxes on just about anything.”

Yes, those silly Democrats. They’ll raise taxes for anything, even — get this — to pay for a war!

And if we did raise taxes to pay for our war ..., “does anyone seriously believe that the Democrats are going to end these new taxes that they’re asking the American people to pay at a time when it’s not necessary to pay them?” added Ms. Perino. “I just think it’s completely fiscally irresponsible.”

Friends, we are through the looking glass. It is now “fiscally irresponsible” to want to pay for a war with a tax. These democrats just don’t understand: the tooth fairy pays for wars. Of course she does — the tooth fairy leaves the money at the end of every month under Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s pillow. And what a big pillow it is! My God, what will the Democrats come up with next? Taxes to rebuild bridges or schools or high-speed rail or our lagging broadband networks? No, no, the tooth fairy covers all that. She borrows the money from China and leaves it under Paulson’s pillow. ...

Of course, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the Democrat David Obey, in proposing an Iraq war tax to help balance the budget was expressing his displeasure with the war. But he was also making a very important point when he said, “If this war is important enough to fight, then it ought to be important enough to pay for.” ...

Previous American generations connected with our troops by making sacrifices at home — we’ve never passed on the entire cost of a war to the next generation, said Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International, who has written a history — “The Price of Liberty” — about how America has paid for its wars since 1776.

“In every major war we have fought in the 19th and 20th centuries,” said Mr. Hormats, “Americans have been asked to pay higher taxes — and nonessential programs have been cut — to support the military effort. Yet during this Iraq war, taxes have been lowered and domestic spending has climbed. In contrast to World War I, World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, for most Americans this conflict has entailed no economic sacrifice. The only people really sacrificing for this war are the troops and their families.”

In his celebrated Farewell Address, Mr. Hormats noted, George Washington warned against “ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burdens we ourselves ought to bear.”

I don't think that now is the right time to raise taxes given the weakness in the economy, and to the extent that spending on the war has crowded out other types of spending there has been a cost for the war, but in general the idea that we need to bear the consequences of our decisions is hard to argue against. Once the nation's decision-making apparatus, such as it is, decided to go to war, what if the rich and powerful had been told that their tax cuts would have to wait until the war ended, that paying for the war would not allow tax-cuts so long as the war was still going on? Might that have changed the support for the war the president received from this powerful coalition? The tax-cuts are hard to justify in any case, and a tax-cut on hold may not have been enough to change the outcome, but requiring sacrifice of some sort from those of power and influence is at least a step toward bringing the costs of the war into the decision making process. Being forced to pay for a war I don't support would tick me off, but that's the point -- by making the public fully internalize the cost of the nation's decision to go to war (including the human cost), it will motivate more pressure to bring this war to an end.

    Posted by on Saturday, October 6, 2007 at 08:37 PM in Budget Deficit, Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (35)


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