It is time for Congress to battle President Bush's Iraq war policy. To date, the Congress has insisted on fighting the battles on the president's turf, his role as Commander-in-Chief. Congress has tried to set deadlines and timetables for redeployment, to stop the surge and to determine troop rotation frequency. Congress has failed because all these actions seemed to restrict the flexibility of the Commander-in-Chief and because the Republicans in the Senate have the Constitutional power to make that case stick. So far Congressional tactics are the equivalent of an insurgent attacking a M1A2 main battle tank head on with an AK-47 assault rifle. That is conventional warfare. Using an improvised explosive device (IED) is asymmetrical warfare.
How does this apply to Congress's battles with the president? Congress is unwilling to use its spending power of the purse to cut off funding for the Iraq occupation and is unable to use that power to restrict the president. So Congress should turn to the taxing aspect of its power of the purse. Representative David Obey (D-Wis) with the support of Representatives John Murtha (D-PA) and James McGovern (D-MA) have introduced legislation to institute a graduated war tax surcharge to pay for the Iraq portion of the $190+ billion defense supplemental request. The tax would start at some 2% for lower income tax payers and rise to 15% for upper income tax payers who have so benefited from President Bush's wartime tax cuts.
This act should be named the "End Painless Patriotism and Spread the Sacrifice Act." Let us be clear about two fundamental facts of this war. First, the entire cost of the war has been funded by foreign borrowing, much of it from China. Not one cent has been paid, yet, by taxpayer dollars. In effect, the cost of this war has been put on the credit cards of our children and grandchildren. The direct cost is approaching $1 trillion and the hidden cost, such as veterans' health care for those with traumatic brain injury (TBI), blindness, amputee rehabilitation and post-traumatic stress disorder, will add $1 to 2 trillion to future spending.
Second, the country is not at war. The military and their families are at war, especially the Army and Marine Corps. Active duty and veterans of these two conflicts should, of course, be exempt from the tax surcharge. For many others a "support the troops" bumper sticker or a swath of ribbon on the back of a SUV is deemed sufficient sacrifice. Most Americans do not know anyone in the military and the majority of casualties are concentrated in small towns and lower income groups. For most Americans, their patriotism is painless, their sacrifice symbolic.
For both these reasons, the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate should stop shunning the Obey initiative. Will this action stop the war now? No. Might it further erode support for the war and spur Congressional action before the end of President Bush's term? Possibly. Will it spread the sacrifice and lessen the burden on future generations. Yes. Will it show leadership? Absolutely. The president appears determined to and capable of perpetuating his war. At least he can be made to pay for it.
It is time to stand up to the President and say "no more painless patriotism, no more credit card war expenditures." The Democrats sought and won Congressional leadership. It is time to lead. As we should no longer tolerate painless patriotism, we should no longer tolerate painless leadership that will be satisfied with largely meaningless gestures. Will the Republicans change "tax and spend?" Maybe, but it will ring hollow especially given the president's and Republicans new found fiscal responsibility that justifies denying children's health care. Will the American people support strong leadership? They have in the past and are likely to do so again. They are also likely to judge harshly those who seek leadership and then fail to lead.
- Colonel Richard L. Klass, USAF (retired)