POLITICS
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

GOP Wages Internal Debate Over Tax Increase For Afghan War

Two former advisers to George W. Bush had a spirited debate on Sunday morning over the possibility of a surtax to pay for a troop escalation in Afghanistan.

Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Dan Senor, a neoconservative war hawk who served as Bush's spokesman in Iraq, called proposals for taxing the rich to pay for the war a backdoor effort to derail any surge in forces. He was opposed by another Bush hand, former communications honcho Matthew Dowd -- a GOP traditionalist -- who said it was unfair to have an increase in troops without a shared social sacrifice.

The whole exchange is worthwhile, but the below portion was particularly illuminating:

SENOR: Let's be honest about what this is about. It's about a campaign against President Obama's troops surge. It's not really about paying for it. It's about arguing against it.

GEORGE WILL: And there's going to be no surtax. We all agree on that. So everyone, relax.

DOWD: I agree with you. There is not going to be a tax. But I think this goes to a fundamental value that I think we lost, which is that we can get things for nothing. That we can go to war and not have to pay for it either by cutting the budget or doing something else. We have a war; we don't have a draft. All of these sorts of things, that we think, 'Oh, by way, we can go fight the most important war in the history of our country, but we're not going to have a draft, we're not going to pay for it, we're not going to do anything that causes anybody to sacrifice.'

SENOR: If [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and [House Appropriations Committee Chairman David] Obey were being intellectually honest about this they would wage a war against the President's surge policy Wednesday morning. As opposed to doing this via some proposed surtax.

[Snip]

DOWD: David Obey's idea I think underlines the problem that we don't ask people -- when we say these things are important -- we don't ask the country to come together for them.

Coming days before President Obama is set to announce an increase in roughly 30,000 to 35,000 troops in Afghanistan, the debate between Senor and Dowd provides a window into the Republican Party's internal divisions. While Democratic opposition to a troop escalation is well known, the disagreement inside the GOP seems to be primarily along the margins. Elsewhere on Sunday, for example, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) argued that it was a "sham" to insist that Congress had to be cautious and concerned about the costs of the Afghan war. But on another show, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) -- the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- acknowledged the need to consider "the capacity of our country to finance this particular situation."

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