The Iraq War and the Ryan Budget: A Modest Proposal

by Bob Schwartz

Paul Ryan Budget
We have two budget crises. One is the budget itself, which is clearly in need of work to make concrete our priorities and the willingness of citizens to support those priorities in the form of taxes. The second crisis is political dysfunction, where real and constructive talk about those priorities and that support is transformed and devolved into useless politalk. One way that uselessness is hidden is by obfuscation and throwing around lots of numbers, details, and core American principles.

Simplify, simplify.

We just marked the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War. There is going to be disagreement about many aspects of that war for generations.

But there is consensus on two things.

The war was financially expensive. How expensive is another matter of contention. The Costs of War Project pegs it at a few trillion dollars, give or take. So how expensive? Very expensive.

The war was not paid for. More precisely, the war was paid for by debt, not by taxes. The United States had never done this before. There are two perfectly good reasons to ask Americans to pay for and sacrifice for wars. Wars are expensive. And taxing for war asks all citizens at all economic levels to make real sacrifice, even if they or their loved ones are not in harm’s way. As a political matter, when the sacrifice outweighs support for the war, there may be pressure to question or even end the war.

It is uncontested that George W. Bush and Congress did not ask for that sacrifice. Without arguing about how that happened, it is the fact. There is no argument about the result. In the midst of this massive borrowing to pay for the war, the economy fell down, and is still having trouble getting up.

With a sense of humility, and standing in the shadow of today’s esteemed Congress, here is a simple and modest proposal.

1. Agree on the financial cost of the Iraq War. For purposes of discussion, let’s say $3 trillion, though it is certainly more.

2. Agree to taxes that will generate that amount of revenue, not a cent more or less. That revenue would then be spent on all the important things that would otherwise be underfunded or unfunded, including every possible entitlement for veterans.

3. Once that money is raised and spent, taxes will revert to the earlier levels, and some members of Congress can go back to babbling, bickering and posturing.

Simple, maybe even naïve. Certainly too naive for the sophisticated politicians who are busy building a budgetary hall of mirrors that only they can navigate, where they think they can hide themselves and some simple, inconvenient truths.

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