War Spending Is Monopoly Money, Apparently

Evan Bayh thinks paying for foreign policy commitments lowers its priority.

In case you haven’t heard, House Appropriations Chair Rep. Dave Obey has proposed that the 30,000 additional troops to be deployed in Afghanistan in 2010 be paid for with a tax. Predictably, soi dissant fiscally responsible deficit hawks absolutely loathe the idea. Ezra Klein has the goods.

David Obey’s effort to fund the expansion of the Afghanistan war with a surtax is running into some opposition. Evan Bayh, who generally presents himself as a paragon of fiscal rectitude, flatly said it’s not going to happen. “National security comes first,” he said, though it’s not clear how paying for a war relegates it to coming second. Ben Nelson wants to sell war bonds, which is to say, he wants us to borrow.

I’m really having difficulty summoning the language to describe how galling this is. These are the same centrists who oppose health care reform on the grounds of fiscal responsibility even though CBO has projected that reform will actually reduce the deficit. So somehow, it’s controversial to think we’d take measures to simultaneously lower the deficit and save some 45,000 preventable American deaths per year, but it’s unthinkable to pay up front for just one year of military commitment in Afghanistan? If the Afghanistan “surge” is such a first order national priority, then why can’t we be expected to pay for it? What’s the logic here? Does a willingness to pay interest on a war signal that it’s really a priority? Like, you don’t really want it if you aren’t overpaying?

Or maybe it’s that if Americans actually had to pay for a hyperactive foreign policy, the public might actually lose appetite for endless commitments with loosely defined objectives? I don’t know, you be the judge.

I’ll also note from a historical perspective that taxes increased significantly during World War II, which whatever your thoughts about Afghanistan, we can all agree was a national security priority.

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