Call it “pay as you fight.”
After months of listening to conservatives caterwaul over deficits and health care, senior House Democrats want a graduated surtax on individuals and corporations to pay for another big drain on the treasury: the Afghanistan war.
Three full committee chairmen — including the House’s top tax writer, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) — are backing the initiative together with the chair of the party caucus, Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), and close allies of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The speaker has been silent thus far, and many dismiss the idea as more rhetoric than real legislation. But with President Barack Obama due to make a final decision soon on adding more U.S. troops, the initiative testifies to the growing restlessness among Democrats over the costs of the American commitment in Afghanistan.
Today’s jobless rate — far worse than during the height of the Vietnam War in the '60s — adds to this angst. And Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), who oversees the Pentagon’s budget and supports the surtax, went so far as to send Obama last month a copy of Yale historian Paul Kennedy’s “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.”
U.S. military spending in Afghanistan had reached $3.6 billion a month this summer — or more than $43 billion a year, according to estimates by the Congressional Research Service. And in the course of meeting with lawmakers, Obama has used a rough measuring stick that every 1,000 troops added will add another $1 billion to this annual basis.
“We’re not trying to insult anybody. We’re just trying to keep in the forefront what the financial costs are,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey (D-Wis.) told POLITICO. “We felt conscience bound to speak up”
“It’s conditional, but if we’re going to add 40,000 troops, people ought to know what the costs are,” said House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.). “It’s important for people to understand how these wars are adding to our deficits.”
Dubbed the “Share the Sacrifice Act,” the six-page bill exempts anyone who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan since the 2001 terrorist attacks as well as families who have lost an immediate relative in the fighting. But middle-class households earning between $30,000 and $150,000 would be asked to pay 1% on top of their tax liability today — a more sweeping approach than many Democrats have been willing to embrace.
By comparison, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has spoken only of an added tax on the wealthy. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) remains hesitant about any surtax to cover the war: “Someone has to demonstrate how it can be done,” he told POLITICO in a statement Monday.
Rep. David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat and the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is the latest lawmaker to call for a new tax aimed at the rich to pay for a troop increase in Afghanistan.
White House Budget Director Peter Orszag has suggested it could cost the government $40 billion per year to send the 40,000 new troops sought by top U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal. (The Pentagon puts that figure somewhat lower.) Obey tells CBSNews.com the cost of the war could "destroy the other things we are trying to do in our economy."
Watch CBS News Videos OnlineIn interviews with CBS News and ABC News, the Wisconsin lawmaker said that he favors a "war surtax" in which high-earners pay five percent of their incomes and lower-earners pay a smaller percentage, down to one percent.
"What we are saying is if this war is worth fighting, then it is worth paying for," Obey said on Monday's edition of CBSNews.com's "Washington Unplugged." (Watch at left.)
"We would impose a one percent surtax on anyone with taxable income that would rise to about two percent if you are making roughly $200,000 dollars, and once you get up into the stratasphere in terms of four or five hundred thousand dollars in income the surtax would be higher than that," he said. "Whatever the cost of the war is would be paid forthrough that tax. Because if we don’t do that that war will bleed every dollar in the budget away from any other initiative and it will block us from making the investments we need to make in our own economy."
Last week, Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called for an "additional income tax to the upper brackets, folks earning more than $200,000 or $250,000" to pay for a troop increase.
"They have done incredibly well," Levin said of the wealthy, "and I think that it's important that we pay for it if we possibly can."
CBSNews.com Special Report: Afghanistan
President Obama is expected to announce his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in the coming weeks. He plans to again meet with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan this evening.
While Congressional Republicans largely support a potential troop serge, many members of the president's own party are more skeptical. They argue that the president is considering deepening U.S. involvement in an expensive and ill-defined mission.
Obey and Levin's comments are the latest indications that a fierce intra-party battle could take place should the president move to add to the 70,000 U.S. troops already fighting in Afghanistan.
"We have been fighting for a year to try to pass health care - it costs about 900 billion dollars - and we are being told that we have to pay for every dime of it," Obey said on "Washington Unplugged." "But if we adopt a plan that General McChrystal is talking about, we are also being told that we have to hunker down and be ready for a decade long or more commitment. If we do that the cost will also be about 900 billion dollars – the difference is that we are not being asked to pay for that. And we think that if we are being asked to pay for health care, we certainly should start paying for the war."
The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”-Albert Einstein
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