In the Arena

Obey’s War Tax

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Congressman David Obey, who called for a tax to pay for the war in Iraq two years ago, has done it again. He’s calling for a tax to pay for Afghanistan. It’s a very good idea for several reasons:

1. A war is, one would hope, a temporary aberration from budget norms, requiring a jolt of new revenues. It is also the most consequential decision that a President and Congress can make; therefore, they should be willing to put their money where their mouths are.

2. The notion of shared sacrifice has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle. If we really “support” the troops, we should support the troops…In a war, every citizen should have to contribute something to the effort.

Some will say: it won’t pass, and we have national security interests in Afghanistan. Trye enough. I’m in favor of continuing the Afghan campaign, and I’d be more than willing to pay my fair share for it…But there’s a larger national interest that needs to be tested: in the Reagan era, a disconnect has developed between the people and their fiscal responsibilities. Any tax that ties one to the other over a concrete matter, like a war, will help rebuild the necessary relationship between spending and taxing. For Republicans who favor the war but oppose taxation, this would be a particularly crucial test of citizenship. (Although it should be noted that the Democrat Lyndon Johnson was the first to fudge the funding of a war, in Vietnam.)

If the public honestly wants the Taliban to return to power in Afghanistan and increase the risk of an Islamist military coup in Pakistan, then its views should be honored. I can’t believe that will be the case…if the case is properly made. But if the public believes that U.S. national security requires a continuing presence in Afghanistan, then it should be willing to pay the tab.

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