December 3, 2009 in Opinion

Editorial: War funding merits same scrutiny as health costs

 

What if costs were removed from the health care debate? Everybody is covered and nobody pays more. Insurers and providers get more customers without giving anything in return. That $800 billion to $1 trillion over 10 years? Don’t sweat it.

The only suspense would be how quickly reform was adopted.

But, of course, costs are at the center of the debate over health care and every other issue … except war.

This nation hasn’t really had an honest debate over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, because nothing is asked of anyone but the soldiers and their families. We send the same troops over and over and put the bill on the national credit card. Our leaders can’t even bring themselves to account for war costs in regular budgets. Instead, they pretend that these long, hard slogs are still emergencies and thus in need of a separate accounting ledger – the kind that doesn’t mess up plans to continue spending or cut taxes.

Wouldn’t want to jeopardize any of that over a war, would we? Wouldn’t want to justify cutting programs elsewhere or raising revenue in service to these wars. The public might respond by asking whether the benefits are worth the costs, as it does with every other government venture.

That’s not to say our leaders don’t talk about the costs. They do. Some Democrats floated the idea of a war tax, but key leaders shot that down. And their alternative? Nothing. Republican leaders say they are going to support war funding for the 30,000-troop surge in Afghanistan, as long as it isn’t in the form of a tax. Take it from unspecified programs or unspent stimulus funds, they say. OK, but what about the total bill, which has been accruing since 2001?

Nobody has a plan for that.

The Senate health care bill totals about $850 billion over 10 years. The House bill clocks in at about $1 trillion. In less than a decade, the bill for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is approaching $1 trillion. Imagine the debate at any point during the past eight years if funding for the wars had be to found within the same bills that authorized the spending.

Presidents and members of Congress have had to decide whether to continue these wars, but they’ve never had to produce the funding. That makes for a false debate, because the costs have been camouflaged. If the American people agree that these wars are the top national priorities, then politicians shouldn’t worry about paying for them.

Make the case. Produce the bill. Explain how it will be paid.

Any retreat from that undermines the arguments for why this is so important.


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