Add David Obey to the increasingly vocal foes of General Stanley McChrystal's proposed escalation of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a group that includes Arlen Specter and the 57 Congresspeople who signed Massachusetts Congressmen James McGovern's letter to the President.
"There ain't going to be no money for nothing if we pour it all into Afghanistan," House Appropriations Chairman David Obey told ABC News in an exclusive interview. "If they ask for an increased troop commitment in Afghanistan, I am going to ask them to pay for it."
Obey, a Democrat from Wisconsin, made it clear that he is absolutely opposed to sending any more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and says if Obama decides to do that, he'll demand a new tax -- what he calls a "war surtax" -- to pay for it.
"On the merits, I think it is a mistake to deepen our involvement," Obey said. "But if we are going to do that, then at least we ought to pay for it. Because if we don't, if we don't pay for it, the cost of the Afghan war will wipe out every initiative we have to rebuild our own economy."
Obey isn't alone in proposing a tax for the war. Senator Carl Levin, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, has suggested putting a levy on upper-income brackets for this purpose:
An "additional income tax to the upper brackets, folks earning more than $200,000 or $250,000" a year, could fund more troops, Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s "Political Capital With Al Hunt," airing this weekend.
White House Budget Director Peter Orszag has estimated that each additional soldier in Afghanistan could cost $1 million, for a total that could reach $40 billion if 40,000 more troops are added.
That cost, Levin said, should be paid by wealthier taxpayers. "They have done incredibly well, and I think that it’s important that we pay for it if we possibly can" instead of increasing the federal debt load, the senator said.
Since Levin opposes sending more troops to Afghanistan, his tax proposal, like Obey's, seems actually designed to put up a roadblock to escalation, because the chances of such a tax being passed are slim to nil. The chances of blocking an escalation, if that is the path President Obama chooses, may be equally unlikely. During the Iraq war, congressional foes never could get a majority to cut off funding for everything except withdrawal. Such a move would be even less likely for U.S. military action in Afghanistan, a war that has always had more support in Congress and among rank-and-file Americans than Iraq did.
Meanwhile, the costs keep rising. As David Dayen reports, U.S. special forces may be spending as much as $1.3 billion to fund anti-Taliban Afghan militia as was done in the Anbar Awakening in Iraq. As Dayen points out, the last time the United States funded local fighters in Afghanistan, it "created the structure for Osama bin Laden to flourish..."
This spending, as well as Levin's and Obey's tax idea, spotlight a continuing problem - figuring out how much the war actually costs. In addition to the $65 billion allocated in the 2010 fiscal year budget for military purposes in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is seeking "emergency" funds that could run as much as $50 billion. It is spending billions of already-approved dollars for what appears to be permanent bases there. If Afghanistan really is to be the focal point of "the long war," Obey and Levin better make their proposed tax a really big one.
The White House will hold another closed-door session on Afghanistan tonight.
[UPDATE]: Tim Fernholz at The American Prospect spoke with Ellis Brachman, Obey's spokesperson, to get more details on the plan:
Essentially, below the $150,000 level, the 15 percent bracket for a family, there would be an increase of 1 percent of your current level, so for most people that would be 15.15 percent. Separate changes would happen between the $150,000 to $250,000 income level and above $250,000, which would be set by the president depending on his eventual decision on what to do in Afghanistan; currently, the war costs about $68 billion a year, but that could increase if the White House decides to send more troops or spend more money on development projects.
= = =
brooklynbadboy had a diary on the Obey tax here.