Friday, February 19, 2010

Pay to Fight: Making War Pay

Last November, Rep. David Obey (D-WI) made a suggestion that bears serious consideration. In the face of the then-pending troop surge in Afghanistan, Obey proposed a “war tax” amounting to a 5 percent surcharge on high incomes and lower percentages for low-income taxpayers to underwrite the $40 billion a year cost of that surge. With the exception of our courageous and recently departed friend, the late John Murtha (D-PA), Mr. Obey’s proposal got no traction whatsoever.

Now, as we hear a clamor of concern over America’s growing budget deficit, especially from conservative Republicans in Congress, it’s time to resurrect Mr. Obey’s proposal.

I recall right after George W. Bush declared his vaunted “global war on terror” and reporters asked him how Americans might show their commitment to that war effort and demonstrate their patriotism. Bush’s response was classic: “Go shopping,” he said. Well, going shopping and buying more Chinese made goods hasn’t worked out so well.

What’s happened to America? Most of us heard our parents and grandparents describe the sacrifices they made during World War II. From rationing eggs, meat and milk, scrap collections, victory gardens, war bond drives and rationing gasoline for their cars—America had a near universal outpouring of support for the troops on the frontlines. Sure, there were some cheaters, but the overwhelming attitude was solidarity and sacrifice for the cause. That’s why, when World War II ended, America became the breadbasket for the devastated economies of Europe and Asia. That’s how American influence helped Japan transition from a monarchy to a democracy. That’s how America was able to fund the Marshall Plan to help create European economies that were even more productive than they had been before the war destroyed them.

Not long ago, a popular beer adopted an advertising slogan that went something like: “Who says you can’t have it all?” That slogan is a perfect reflection of the pandering expectations that too many politicians from both political parties practice today. It’s also the essence of Reaganomics. It assures us: “You can have a $1 trillion-plus expenditure on defense and security (23 percent of total government spending), another $3 trillion on health and education, consumer protection and law enforcement. You can fight wars half way across the globe, protect your shores, secure your transportation systems, keep food and drugs safe, while leaving no child behind and, oh, if we run a little short, just put it on the credit card.” Don’t blame that attitude on Obama—it originated even before Reagan, but his administration perfected it.

Today, the tea baggers say, we don’t need any government besides defense and security. We hear these Right Wingers screaming that any new spending program has to be paid for with a cut somewhere else.

Okay, let’s use that same thought on any war we fight.

Let’s pay for it with a temporary tax that runs the duration of the war….Talk about an incentive for an “exit strategy”, that would be the greatest peace incentive in history. The Lefty Liberals say, we can do away with defense and security, but we need to spend even more on the other 75 percent of government. But, you don’t hear many from either side say: If you’ll tell us exactly what these programs will cost, we’ll gladly pay our fair share.

Then there are the corporations and super rich: They say, make sure the nation is “friendly to business” and “secure enough” for commerce, but let the suckers pay. Corporations think they’re doing their part with their political contributions and under the table payoffs to maintain the status quo.

Fast forward to 2010: Lot’s of people proclaim their support for the troops with yellow ribbons on their bumpers. I’m sure the troops appreciate the gesture, but come on, what does it mean? Do those yellow ribbons mean you’re willing to pay for full funding for VA hospitals and VA benefits? To pay to build the ships, planes, weapons and material that the troops need to carry out their mission?

No, Mr. and Mrs. America, we can’t “have it all,” but we can have what we’re willing to pay for. And, if we don’t think it’s worthwhile to pay a tax to pursue a global war on terror, we can let the politicians know that, too.

We don’t need a deficit commission, we need a reality check and we need it now.

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