Afghanistan: Pay for it or charge it?
War is expensive, and it's about to get more so if the U.S. government escalates its military efforts in Afghanistan.
President Obama is set to announce his strategy in a speech Tuesday at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. And the question of cost hovers in the background of the difficult decision he faces.
Over the past eight years, the nearly $1 trillion cost of the military's efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan was essentially charged to the national credit card.
Will it be different this time?
There's some chance lawmakers may opt to pay the bill as it comes due, rather than letting the balance and interest accrue. It's not the first time the idea has come up, but it may be the first time the idea is given serious consideration.
A big part of the context for deciding whether and how to pay for a buildup are the growing deficits that have become a political and financial albatross. The country's accumulated debt is expected to rise from $12 trillion today to $21 trillion by the end of 2019.
Some lawmakers are pushing for a war tax. Peter Orszag, the White House budget director, took part in the latest war council meeting. And Obama is expected to raise the cost issue in his Tuesday evening address at West Point.
Since 2001, close to $1 trillion has been appropriated by Congress - and borrowed by Treasury - to pay for U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service published in September.
Total spending on the global war on terror, including missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, could approach $2 trillion by 2019 depending on the level of military involvement, the CRS reported.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Wednesday told reporters that Obama's address would stress that further engagement in Afghanistan would not last another eight years. Gibbs also characterized the increase in troops as "very, very, very expensive" in terms of potential lives lost and dollars spent.
The White House estimates a troop increase will cost $1 billion a year for every 1,000 troops. So if Obama chooses to increase troops by as much as 40,000, that's $40 billion a year. That would be on top of the costs incurred for the troops and operations already on the ground, including the costs of any drawdown in Iraq.
"That's in addition to what we already spent in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That also does not include training and it doesn't include maintenance of a security force," Gibbs said.
Enter David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and other leading Democratic congressmen who have proposed a graduated war surtax beginning in 2011 to pay for U.S. military efforts going forward. The amount of tax collected would have to be sufficient to cover the full war costs of the previous year.
The surtax would start at 1% for anyone with taxable income and increase gradually up the income scale to as much as 5% for the highest-income households.