DUMMERSTON, Vt. —It was once a given of American economic policy that, when the nation went to war, it increased taxes to pay for it. For example, the top personal tax rate during World War II was 94 percent on all income above $70,000, or about $753,000 in today's dollars.
Can you imagine the screams you would hear today if someone proposed something similar to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
We got a little taste of that last week when three senior House Democrats — David Obey of Wisconsin, John Murtha of Pennsylvania and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts — proposed an annual tax surcharge to pay for any additional costs of U.S. operations in Iraq.
The trio's proposal — a 2 percent surcharge for low- and middle-income taxpayers and a 12-15 percent surcharge for wealthier Americans — was immediately shot down by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "Just as I have opposed the war from the onset, I am opposed to a draft and I am opposed to a war surtax," she said.
But Obey, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, makes a good point when he said, "If you don't like the cost, then shut down the war."
That's certainly where public opinion is headed. A Washington Post/ABC News poll last week found that about 70 percent of people they surveyed oppose fully funding the Bush administration's request for an additional $190 billion to pay the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Republican Party's approach to funding the war has been similar to their approach to every other issue in the past six years — kick the cost of funding everything you do down the road so you can pretend to be in favor of "smaller government" today while sticking your children and grandchildren with the bill tomorrow.
The Democrats in Congress, however, are not without sin on this issue. Quietly, nearly all of them voted to increase the federal debt limit by $850 billion, to $9.815 trillion. At the same time, they voted to give the Bush administration an extra $9 billion to tide it over until the next war supplemental bill is passed, as well as approval to tap into a $70 billion "bridge fund" designed to keep the government running until a final federal budget is enacted.
Only one senator voted against the measure, Russ Feingold, D-Wis. He said he opposed voting for "a continuing resolution that provides tens of billions of dollars to continued the misguided war in Iraq but does not include any language to bring that war to a close."
And that is the main problem. It's impossible for Congress to say it wants to stop the war if it keeps approving additional funding for the war. It's equally impossible for Congress, and the Bush administration, to keep the war going at its present level without either raising taxes or bringing back the draft to replenish an increasingly depleted military force.
The cost of the wars in Afghanistan — which began six years ago this week— and Iraq is nearing $1 trillion. This cost is being largely funded by borrowing money. Remember, right after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the most important priority for the Bush administration was more tax cuts — thus demonstrating another GOP tactic of the past six years: take advantage of national calamities to push through laws that benefit your supporters.
No one in Congress seems to realize that the Iraq war has left us with a broken military, a broken economy and a broken reputation around the world. No one has the guts to stop funding this war. That's why Congress has an even lower approval rating than President Bush right now.
More and more Americans oppose the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but Congress and the White House are completely stalemated on a withdrawal plan. More and more Americans oppose the ever-increasing cost of the Iraq war and demand fiscal responsibility, but Congress keeps approving the White House demands for more money while refusing to come up with the means to pay for it.
It's been nearly five years since the United States invaded Iraq. The war has been grinding on with no end in sight. There have been vigils and protests and other acts of dissent all over the country, but little has changed. But wars don't end overnight and, as Frederick Douglass once said, "power concedes nothing without a demand."
The only way we can end our occupation of Iraq, and prevent a possible attack on Iran, is massive and sustained public action. Every voice must be raised until the message — stop the war now — cannot be ignored any longer by our leaders. And every politician that fails to heed this message, friend and foe alike, must be removed from office. Only then might we see an end to this stupid, senseless war.