Two weeks ago I wrote a column for the Daily Beast asking why Washington seems to think that our deficit makes additional spending "impossible" unless we're talking about adding troops to Afghanistan. It turns out I was being unfair -- but only to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey (D-WI). Obey has proposed a tax equal to the additional cost of Obama's war strategy, which the president will announce next week. Is a war tax doable?
Well, it would be very expensive, almost impossible to "measure" and widely lambasted by every Republican and most Democrats. But other than that!
But just because I consider the tax a long shot doesn't mean I wouldn't support it. Consider the price of war. There are no official projection of war costs -- how would the CBO score a war? -- but the Congressional Research Service estimates the cost of sending one soldier to Afghanistan for one year is approximately $1 million. A 30,000-troop escalation, which sounds like Obama's ceiling, would require a $30 billion yearly tax. That would be about four-times the proposed tax on soda drinks, or three-times the proposed taxes on soda and alcohol.
I think there's a lot of dishonesty among members of both parties, a gaggle I'll call war deficit hawks. They're deficit hawks because they're good at reminding us that our debt looks ugly. And they're war hawks because they're good at reminding us that we have to do whatever our generals tell us to do in Afghanistan. But this predictably leads to strange cognitive dissonance, to wit:
Republicans who proposed a spending freeze in the teeth of a recession are now threatening to attack any troop escalation under 40,000. The Wall Street Journal's op-ed page once shreddedspending its way into deficits that are so large they dwarf any during peacetime in U.S. history." Now it mocks the president as "wobbly" and "spooked" for not allowing Gen. Stanley McChrystal to add whatever dollar amount he wants to a blank check from the government. Sen. Joe Lieberman said over the summer that there should be no health care reform until the recession is over. He now considers anything less than a full 40K escalation a historic concession to evil on par with surrendering to German Nazis - this about a war we've been losing in slow motion for eight years.
Since I hold no firm opinions about the proper course of action in Afghanistan, I suppose I support exactly the thing Obey is asking. Do the right thing in Afghanistan, Mr. President, but also do the right thing back home. Fiscal responsibility doesn't stop at the water's edge. War money is real money, too. Let's treat it that way.