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Afghan Escalation Would Make One-Year Pentagon Budget Almost As Big as Entire 10-Year Health Bill

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In pitting the 10-year cost of Democrats' health care bill against the 10-year projected cost of the bloated Pentagon budget, my newspaper column last week made a simple comparison rarely ever made in politics today - a comparison that might provide citizens with much needed context, but a comparison that is ignored.

Is the comparison's omission deliberate? It's hard to say, but when you read this typical New York Times piece, it's hard to argue that it isn't being irresponsibly ignored:

While President Obama's decision about sending more troops to Afghanistan is primarily a military one, it also has substantial budget implications that are adding pressure to limit the commitment, senior administration officials say...

Even if fewer troops are sent, or their mission is modified, the rough formula used by the White House, of about $1 million per soldier a year, appears almost constant.

So even if Mr. Obama opts for a lower troop commitment, Afghanistan's new costs could wash out the projected $26 billion expected to be saved in 2010 from withdrawing troops from Iraq. And the overall military budget could rise to as much as $734 billion, or 10 percent more than the peak of $667 billion under the Bush administration.

Kudos, of course, to the Times for even reporting on the unfathomably large costs of intensifying militarism and adventurism. But as you'll see in the story, there's no attempt to put the costs into any context - specifically, there's no mention that an escalation in Afghanistan would mean outlays for the one-year Pentagon budget is approaching the total outlays of the entire 10-year health care bill.

Of course, the Times does offer up one fleeting contextual message indicating that increased defense spending from an Afghanistan escalation "would be a politically volatile issue for Mr. Obama at a time when the government budget deficit is soaring, the economy is weak and he is trying to pass a costly health care plan." But even that brief mention is dishonest.

On what basis does the Times call the health care plan "costly?" As I said in my column, while the Congressional Budget Office (ie. the nonpartisan institution that reporters/politicians use to price bills) says the health legislation would mandate about $890 billion, CBO also makes painfully clear its tax and budget-cutting provisions would recover a net of $109 billion over 10 years, meaning the bill is as "costly" to the public treasury as the purchase of a stock that produces a net 10% return on investment. I mean, seriously - if you invested $1,000 into a stock and got $1,100 back, would you lament to a friend about how "costly" the investment was to your bank account? No - because your friend would look at you like you were insane.

Indeed, only in Washington is a big return on taxpayer investment and a $109 billion reduction in the deficit an example of something that's "costly" to taxpayers - and only in a quickly deteriorating American media would defense spending be reported with almost zero context.


David Sirota is a full-time political journalist, best-selling author and
nationally syndicated newspaper columnist living in Denver, Colorado. He blogs for Working Assets and the Denver Post's PoliticsWest website. He is a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, which in 2006 received the Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage. His 2006 book, Hostile Takeover, was a New York Times bestseller, and is now out in paperback. He has been a guest on, among others, CNN, (more...)

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While I agree with you that we should be pulling o... by Scott Baker on Monday, Nov 16, 2009 at 3:22:51 PM
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