Iraq war surtax is DOA

Yesterday, Democratic representatives David Obey (Wi), John Murtha (PA), and Jim McGovern (MA) proposed a 2% surtax for low and middle income taxpayers and 12-15% for upper income taxpayers in order to pay for the $150 billion costs of the Iraq occupation in 2008. The response, both by the Democratic leadership and the Republicans in the House was nothing if not predictable.

Ms. Pelosi, in a statement, echoed the criticism of Mr. Bush but said she would not support a war tax. She said the president had “failed to learn the lesson that the war should require shared sacrifice” and accused him of “adding hundreds of billions in debt for future generations to repay.”

But she said: “Just as I have opposed the war from the outset, I am opposed to a draft and I am opposed to a war surtax.” (source: NYTimes article)

“We’ve always known that Democrats seem to revert to type, and they are willing to raise taxes on just about anything,” [White House spokeswoman Dana Perino] said. (source: NYTimes article)

“If the new majority has proven one thing this session, it’s that no piece of legislation is immune from being converted into a vehicle to raise taxes,” said Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the GOP whip. (source: AP article)

It’s particularly telling that even as Representative Obey was bemoaning the lack of shared sacrifice, neither he nor his fellow surcharge backers really felt that a surcharge was a serious proposal. The quotes below illustrate what I mean.

“There is no sense of shared sacrifice in this country on this war,” Obey said. “The only families being asked to sacrifice are military families, and they are being asked to sacrifice again and again and again. We need to stop pretending that this war doesn’t cost anything.” (source: LA Times story)


Obey acknowledged that the measure would be controversial and said he didn’t expect it to gain the support of either the Democratic leadership or the overall Democratic caucus “at this point.” (source: MarketWatch story)

Let’s be blunt about what this really means. It means that, even when controlled by the opposition, Congress is not just ineffective at checking the President’s power, it’s useless. It means that neither political party cares about the economic future, and the authority it represents, of our country. It means that even the Democrats, who were elected into Congress with a mandate to get us out of Iraq, can’t even do the one thing they were clearly tasked with doing. It means that our leaders lack the vision to be fiscally responsible.

Our leaders must be more than they have been. We need leaders who have vision to see beyond the ideology. Leaders who are creative enough to innovate ways out of our ineffective, stagnant government. Leaders who understand the fundamental truths that occupations and wars and and federal benefits all cost money, that the only ways to pay for things is to reduce spending elsewhere or to raise taxes, and that it’s ultimately in the public interest to present those choices to the people for an open debate on the merits of the few viable solutions.

If we’re not getting the leadership we need, then it’s time to replace our leaders. Again.

Update: The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne Jr. put up an excellent commentary on this very issue on Wednesday, Oct. 4. A couple of key quotes are below:

The proposal is a magnificent way to test the seriousness of those who claim that the Iraq war is an essential part of the “global war on terror.” If the war’s backers believe in it so much, it should be easy for them to ask taxpayers to put up the money for such an important endeavor….

If a war appropriations bill with a tax included went down to overwhelming defeat, wouldn’t that tell us something about the depth of commitment to this war?…

Here is a president who signed one bloated spending bill after another — as long as they were passed by a Republican Congress — posing as a fiscal conservative now that Democrats are in the majority. He’s so tough and determined that he’s also drawn the line on . . . children’s health care….

And if the president believes in this war so much and doesn’t want to raise taxes, let him propose the deep spending cuts it would take to cover the costs. Then Bush would show how much of a priority he believes this war is — and he wouldn’t be playing small ball.

Categories: Politics/Law/Government, World

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4 replies »

  1. Sure, for a legitimate war like WWII. . . raise taxes. For Iraq? As a taxpayer and citizen, I feel absolutely no responsibility.

    I’m tempted to say, they got themselves into this, let them get themselves out. But, of course, they won’t.

    Instead, troop withdrawals must begin, plans for permanent bases abandoned, and, most importantly, cut that bloated defense budget (which doesn’t include the war) in half.

  2. Russ, as you say, they won’t, and Congress is showing no interest in either being fiscally responsible (either raising taxes or cutting other programs to avoid massive deficit spending on Iraq and Afghanistan) or in withdrawing. And both cases requires an effective government, something that we don’t have in D.C. right now.

    I won’t say I’d be happy with higher taxes, but at least I’d have the consolation that our Congress gets it. Hell, even the withdrawal plans are BS – they’re all playing fast and loose with the reality that it’ll take at least a year to pull all our forces out, never mind the very important questions about how we make sure we don’t have to go back again to stomp on a potentially renewed al-Qaeda or its descendants.

  3. Brian, I just found out that, in part, the proposal is meant to force Bush’s hand: If you want to keep us in Iraq, then you’ll have to raise taxes.

    To Bush deciding between raising taxes and leaving Iraq is life between a rock and a hard place.

  4. To Bush deciding between raising taxes and leaving Iraq is life between a rock and a hard place.

    Agreed. Of course, I’m someone who thinks that we’ll have to raise taxes anyway, if not to pay for Iraq, then to pay for everything else that we’re financing with debt these days.

    I’ve come to realize that any politician who pledges “no new taxes” during his campaign shouldn’t be elected. Either he’s lying in order to get elected, in which case he doesn’t deserve to be elected, or he actually believes that we’re taxed too much and can solve our problems without any new taxes, in which case he’s and idiot and isn’t smart enough to run a dog pound, never mind a city, state, or the country.