The Iraq Money Pit

I recently came across a photo of a handwritten sign in a US military facility in Ramadi, Iraq. The sign read, "America is not at war. The Marine Corps is at war; America is at the mall."

The sign reflects a perception among many US soldiers and their families that the American people are not sharing in their sacrifice.

It is a perception grounded in reality. President Geroge W. Bush recently called upon the nation for "more patience, more courage, and more sacrifice." But outside of the military, who is really sacrificing?

Certainly not members of Congress. We will not wake up tomorrow in harm's way in Baghdad or Fallujah. We're often good at talking about sacrifice but lousy at bringing it about.

I propose we change this dynamic by raising taxes on nearly every American in order to pay for the war in Iraq.

So far we have spent $450 billion fighting the war. The president is expected to ask for an additional $150 billion soon. It is reasonable to assume that the cost will approach $800 billion by the time Bush leaves office.

I will soon introduce legislation to impose a "surtax" to begin paying for future war costs that have not been budgeted and paid for by existing federal revenues. This war surtax is modeled on similar surtaxes imposed during World War II and the Vietnam War to cover war costs.

Members of the US Armed Forces who are currently exempted from taxes because they receive combat zone compensation - as well as their spouses - would not be subject to the war surtax. Survivors of fallen soldiers would also be exempt.

But the rest of us would begin to pay at least something.

Currently, we are paying for the war in Iraq not through the normal budget process but by borrowing and increasing the national debt - by putting the costs onto the national credit card. Every morning, countries like China and India buy up this debt, further weakening our economy and our national security.

My surtax proposal is not an additional tax on income; rather, it is a tax on tax liability.

For example, if a low-income taxpayer owes $100 in taxes, he would be subject to an additional 2 percent surtax of $2. Wealthy taxpayers would pay a higher percentage. Corporations, trusts, and estates would also be subject to the surtax.

Needless to say, this idea of a surtax makes my colleagues - Democrat and Republican - exceedingly nervous. No politician likes to talk about raising taxes. But somebody, someday, somewhere will pay the hundreds of billions we have borrowed so far for this war.

My conservative colleagues will argue that we should cut spending to cover the costs. That's nice rhetoric, but it's not real. Are we going to eliminate the entire departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services? Or how about eliminating all funding for the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Energy, Interior, Treasury, the EPA, and NASA combined? That's what it would take to fund just one year of the Iraq war.

Some of my fellow antiwar liberals believe that since the war in Iraq is wrong, they do not want to pay for it. But isn't it also wrong to force future generations to pay for it?

I voted against the war in Iraq. I have consistently fought to bring the war to an immediate end and to bring our troops home. I believe it is the worst political, military, and diplomatic tragedy in our history.

But to force our children to pay for that tragedy would only compound it. The war in Iraq has been this generation's mistake. It should not be the next generation's burden.

We have an opportunity to say to our soldiers and their families that we are in this together; that their fellow citizens are also sacrificing just a little bit.

That's a message worth sending.

US Representative James P. McGovern represents the Third District of Massachusetts.

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