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GOP: Use Unspent Stimulus For War

Ryan Grim

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., left, accompanied by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington,Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009. McConnell told his colleagues during a closed-door GOP lunch Tuesday that the best way to fund the war would be to use unspent stimulus funds. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

As some Democrats consider raising taxes to pay for President
Obama's escalation of the now-eight-year-old war in Afghanistan, the
opposition party has a suggestion.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told his colleagues
during a closed-door GOP lunch Tuesday that the best way to fund the
war would be to use unspent stimulus funds, according to Sen. Lamar
Alexander (R-Tenn.), the third-ranking Republican.

McConnell, at a press briefing with reporters following the meeting,
repeated the idea -- only after making sure to share the blame with
Democrats for not paying for previous wars.

"Well, I think ideally it would be better to pay for the war than
not. As you know, in previous years both sides agreed not to," said
McConnell (though the GOP controlled Congress through 2006 and the
White House through 2008, leaving Democrats little opportunity to fund
a war).

"We know the stimulus failed. It was sold to the Congress and to the
American people with the suggestion that it would hold unemployment
below 8 percent. We know unemployment is over 10 percent," said
McConnell. "If we're looking for a way to fund several years of the war
I would suggest unexpended stimulus funds would be a good place to

McConnell is heading to the White House Tuesday afternoon for a
meeting with Obama in advance of the president's speech announcing the
escalation of 34,000 troops, which comes on top of a recent
20,000-strong escalation, bringing the total number of troops north of

On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office released a study finding that only about a quarter of the stimulus funds have been spent so far.

Regardless of how the war is paid for, the Senate will need to pass
a supplemental war spending measure at some point next year, said Sen.
Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, on

The supplemental could come at a tough time for Democrats seeking
reelection in 2010, as the Democratic base clamors for an end to the
war amid widespread concern that the overseas effort is sucking up
money needed for the economic recovery at home.

In addition, the Afghan government propped up by the U.S. is mired
in corruption and is widely perceived to have stolen the recent
election. "It's controversial anytime you send troops to a foreign
country, particularly one where there's been such poor governance in
the country," said Levin. "You've got such evidence of corruption,
which is continuing."

Democrats in Congress generally reacted coolly to Obama's troop
escalation, but said that they would wait to hear his speech before
drawing conclusions.

Various proposals to fund the war, from war bonds to a surtax on the
wealthy, have been floated. GOP senators roundly rejected the surtax
suggestion, as did one bellwether of elite opinion in the capital: the Washington Post editorial board. In a characteristically flawed editorial, the Post dismissed
a surtax "since the House already has voted to tax high incomes to pay
for health care, and raising the income taxes of middle-class families
makes little sense when the nation is struggling to recover from a

The Post knows -- or ought to know -- that the House tax on
the wealthy is not in the Senate health care bill and that it is
extremely unlikely to be included in the final measure. And the surtax
would not, in fact, hit "middle-class families," but rather the

Opposition to such a tax, however, means that only a fee on the
wealthiest Americans has a chance of getting through, said Levin.

"I don't think any tax increase in the middle of a recession --
except a tax on the upper income bracket which has done so very, very
well, even in the middle of the recession -- is going to happen," he

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