Here's something everyone in Congress needs to see as they consider President Obama's $83.4 billion supplemental war funding bill. National Priorities Project (NPP) just released The Cost of War in Afghanistan, a report examining the exorbitant human and economic costs of this rapidly expanding war, which estimates the war has currently cost taxpayers over $172 billion. When you factor in the projected costs of long-term military occupation, interest, and veterans' benefits, we're talking about a war that will cost close to $1 trillion. "All told," the report concludes, "this is more than the size of the recent bailout of Wall Street and rivals the historic economic stimulus bill just passed by Congress."
NPP is tracking the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq using an individual cost of war counter, calculating the state-level numbers and trade-offs of supplemental war spending. In my home state of Pennsylvania, for instance, taxpayers will have to pay $2.9 billion of the proposed $83.4 billion tab. Want to know what $2.9 billion could do instead of fund more war? NPP claims it could provide:
- 725,689 People with Health Care for One Year OR
- 3,533,713 Homes with Renewable Electricity for One Year OR
- 29,863 Affordable Housing Units OR
- 460,546 Head Start Places for Children for One Year OR
- 46,575 Elementary School Teachers for One Year OR
That's certainly not to say everyone in Congress favors a massive increase in war spending. Just yesterday, Representatives Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, and Lynn Woolsey wrote an Op-Ed in Politico called, "Getting It Right in Afghanistan." The three California Democrats said Obama's supplemental contradicts his recent calls for more humanitarian aid and diplomacy for Afghanistan, considering 90 percent of the supplemental will go toward expanding military operations.
Here's the alternative Lee, Waters, and Woolsey recommended:
The United States should provide additional resources for reconstruction and economic development initiatives, along with other civilian tools that will be more effective in bringing about long-term peace and stability. One way to accomplish this would be to drop the administration's plan to increase existing troop levels and instead shift resources toward a "civilian surge." Our military forces could then be redirected to support these efforts, while minimizing the impression that they are serving as an indefinite occupying force.
This dissent and NPP's report shine a spotlight on a war spending bill that will squander tens of billions more on increasing military operations in Afghanistan, including military construction and the highly controversial Predator and Reaper drones. As these three Reps suggest, Congress shouldn't approve the supplemental until the administration offers clear benchmarks for measuring success, a timeline for troop withdrawal, and an exit strategy. At the very least, Obama needs to provide an explanation as to why taxpayers have to pay billions for military escalation when what this conflict calls for is a regional diplomatic solution.
Follow ZP Heller on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zpheller