However, the Democrats' new-found concern for fiscal responsibility also looks suspect. Rep. Obey, who in 2007 proposed a similar levy for Iraq, complains that the money spent in Afghanistan "will cost us on education, on our efforts to build the entire economy." Rep. Lynn Woolsey similarly objects that the war has "diverted funds from desperately needed domestic priorities." Sen. Levin admits that he wants higher taxes in principle-the wealthy "have done incredibly well"-arguing that taxes should have been raised during the previous administration.
In rebuttal, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lost no time in pointing out the obvious: "The Democrats are willing to bust the budget to pass a domestic program that the American people are against, but all of a sudden find it offensive to do something that is absolutely essential to the security of Americans here in the United States." There's little evidence that attempting to build an effective, pro-Western central government in Kabul, essentially where the mission is heading, has much to do with U.S. security, but Sen. McConnell's broader point remains valid: Democrats were far less concerned about excessive borrowing when they were voting for hundreds of billions of dollars for social programs, bailouts and "stimulus" packages. For this reason Republican legislators have proposed to pay for the Afghan surge by freezing discretionary outlays, using unspent "stimulus" funds, and delaying debates over health-care reform and cap and trade. There likely is another objective lurking beneath the surface of the proposed tax hike. Just as Rep. Charles Rangel advocated reinstating conscription in an attempt raise the perceived public cost of the Iraq war, surcharge advocates may hope to highlight the cost of the Afghan war.
Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute complains that "Certain members of the progressive caucus see this as very attractive because it has the chance of increasing the unpopularity of the war." Roberton Williams of the Urban Institute-Brookings Institute Tax Policy Center makes the same point: "Look at who's pushing this. It's people opposed to the war."
While Republican politicians continue the raise the alarm over new domestic spending initiatives, they fall curiously silent when it comes to America's oversize military budget and war costs.
Indeed, the conservative Heritage Foundation, long a proponent of reduced spending, put out a special handout entitled "THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN: Costs in Context." According to Heritage, $95 billion in 2010 is "a small price to pay," "a tiny fraction of federal spending," "small relative to America's past wars," "far less than TARP, bailouts, and the stimulus," and "smaller than the annual growth in entitlements."
These are all true as far as they go, but spending on almost every federal program is small compared to the overall deficit. When Rep. Woolsey complained that war outlays had "exploded the lid off our national debt," she could have made the same comment about a myriad of domestic programs as well.
Moreover, Heritage's statements are not ones conservatives typically make regarding proposals for new domestic spending initiatives. And the military spending adds up: since 2001 Washington has spent nearly $1 trillion on Afghanistan and Iraq. The Congressional Budget Office figures the cost over the next decade could run $1.6 trillion. The interest on war-related debt adds another $100 billion. And the Obama administration is hiking non-war related military outlays, merely slowing the rate of increase.
Washington is spending far too much. There is no easy way to pay for an expanded war in Afghanistan. Higher taxes at least impose the real cost on the present generation. More debt continues the dishonest fiction that the American people can get something for nothing.
But the solution is to cut expenditures. The fact that Washington is spending too much money on domestic programs is no excuse for unnecessary military expenditures. Defense outlays need to be evaluated critically on their own terms.