This evening, in his State of the Union address, President Bush will make the case for his plan to escalate the war in Iraq. He'll paint the potential costs of pulling out of Iraq in stark colors. But he won't say much about the real costs of staying in and escalating.
We should never forget the incalculable cost of the war -- the lives and the limbs of U.S. soldiers. As of this month, more than 3,000 U.S. soldiers have died and 22,800 been wounded in this war. An estimated 35,000 Iraqi civilian lives were lost last year. A staggering percentage have been displaced from their homes. The U.S. casualties bring terrible grief to their families and friends, but the loss must sober and sadden us all.
In addition, this country pays very steep economic costs -- what economists call "opportunity costs" -- the costs of what is not done with the scarce financial resources we are devoting to war in Iraq. The price is particularly apparent as the president prepares to introduce a budget calling for cuts in child care, in education, in health care, and more.
Rep. John Murtha, the salty old Marine who chairs the House Armed Services Appropriations Committee, has been calling for redeploying the troops, and for letting the Iraqis settle their own civil war. This week, Murtha put out a document to remind people of the real domestic costs of staying in a war that costs nearly $9 billion a month, or $120 billion a year -- not counting the interest costs, the costs of veterans' health care and pensions, etc.
The president cuts Medicare and Medicaid in his FY 2007 budget: $5 billion will be cut over five years from Medicaid -- money that the country will spend in 2½ weeks in Iraq; $36 billion is slated for cuts in Medicare -- or about what the president will spend in a little more than 4½ months in Iraq.
The cost of six hours in Iraq would pay for the cuts in the National Institutes of Health research budget, cuts that are occurring even as scientists are starting to leave the field because of funding shortages.
For the cost of every 1½ months in Iraq -- about $15 billion -- we could provide health insurance for one year for 9 million children who now go without. Children who go without adequate health care when they are young find it more difficult to learn, and are more likely to develop chronic illnesses. We are not only stealing from their promise, we are adding to our own future health care bills.
At the price of 12 hours in Iraq, the president's budget cuts off food packages for 400,000 elderly poor people from the supplemental food program.
For the cost of 2½ days in Iraq, we could help 463,000 low-income students attend college, by paying to reverse the Perkins Loan program reductions in Bush's FY '07 budget. Thirteen days would enable us to reverse the cuts in funding for over 40 education programs, ranging from support for drug-free schools, to federal support for technology centers.
Or think about major national imperatives. The Apollo Alliance has detailed a program for energy independence -- $30 billion a year for 10 years would free us from our dependence on Persian Gulf oil, begin to address catastrophic climate change and generate 3 million jobs here at home.
We could pay for the whole agenda with what we've spent over the last two years in Iraq.
To make us more secure, five days in Iraq would pay for radiation detectors needed at all U.S. ports, rejected thus far due to cost. Two days would pay for detectors to scan 100 percent of all cargo on passenger planes. Two more days would pay to make emergency radio systems interoperable -- which still hasn't happened five years after Sept. 11. Five days would allow us to double federal spending for police on our streets.
So when the president calls for an escalation in Iraq, remember the price tag that he won't mention -- in the lives and limbs of young men and women, in children without nutrition and health care, the elderly without food and heating aid, and security in our own neighborhoods. We are a wealthy nation, but we cannot squander what economists estimate may total up to $2 trillion on a misbegotten war abroad without paying the price here at home.
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