Walter Pinkus writes: At last, after 11 years of the United States at war, a few minutes of public discussion of a tax to pay for the fighting. But that would be for the next war.
“What would be the impact of going to war again without committing to pay for that war with up-front taxes, something we did not do in either Iraq or Afghanistan, for the first time in the history of the country?” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta at a Senate Defense Appropriation subcommittee hearing on June 13.
That’s a question that should be asked before any president sends U.S. forces into a fight overseas or members of Congress propose legislation that authorizes some sort of military action abroad.
“We basically ran that war [Iraq] on a credit card,” Leahy told Panetta, who was there to discus the fiscal 2013 Defense Appropriations bill. “Now we find people who are calling for more military action in other parts of the world; at the same time, they do not want to consider any way of paying for it.”
No details were mentioned, but Leahy obviously was thinking about the drumbeat to provide air cover and arms to the Syrian opposition to President Bashar al-Assad coming from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), as well as from the presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his advisers. And who is ready to pay for whatever it may take if the United States has to resort to military action to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon? The Libyan effort cost more than $1 billion.
Leahy could also have been thinking about Congress authorizing President Obama’s sending of 100 Special Forces into Central Africa in October. They are providing support to Ugandan, Congolese and Central African Republic units searching for the ruthless Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.
Panetta gave the answer you would expect from a former House Budget Committee chairman, Office of Management and Budget director and chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. As Clinton’s chief of staff in 1996, he helped negotiate a budget compromise with Republican congressional leaders.
“Obviously,” Panetta told the senators, “if we repeated the mistake of not paying for the war that we decide to engage in, whatever that might be, the results would be that you would simply add more to the deficit and to the debt of this country for the future. You just put that burden on our kids for the future.”
He added, “All of us bear some responsibility to pay those costs if we’re willing to engage in war.”
How quickly would Congress have voted in October 2002, on the eve of a congressional election, to give President George W. Bush authority to use force in Iraq if the resolution also contained a provision to raise taxes?