New York Times
President Bush waited until he had vetoed a relatively inexpensive children’s health insurance bill before asking for tens of billions of dollars more for his misadventure in Iraq. The cynicism of that maneuver is only slightly less shameful than the president’s distorted priorities. Despite a pretense of fiscal prudence, Mr. Bush keeps throwing money at his war, regardless of the cost in blood, treasure or children’s health care.
Mr. Bush is threatening to veto most of the 12 domestic spending bills now before Congress because Democrats want to provide $22 billion more than the $933 billion he has requested. His argument? Something about the president’s responsibility to rein in lawmakers’ “temptation to overspend.”
This from a leader who turns federal surpluses into deficits, believes that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars can be financed on a separate set of books with borrowed money, and keeps having to go back to Congress for “emergency funding” because he cannot or will not tell the truth about what it is costing to fight these wars.
Mr. Bush’s latest emergency request is for $46 billion. That would bring the 2008 price tag for Iraq and Afghanistan to $196.4 billion. Starting at Sept. 11, 2001, war-fighting expenses total a staggering $800 billion or more. The nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments says that by the end of the year spending on Iraq will probably surpass that on the Vietnam War.
Mr. Bush has said most of the new money would go for “day-to-day” military operations and “basic needs” like bullets, body armor and mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, which are designed to withstand bomb attacks, a rising threat to American forces in Iraq. The troops need safer vehicles and better armor, but it is beyond our ken why Mr. Bush could not cover this in his original budget submission, unless he wanted to confuse the public and limit Congressional oversight.
And there is no end in sight. Mr. Bush clearly plans to keep fighting this pointless war until his last day in office. The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, told The Times that he will press Congress to sustain current military spending levels even after the Iraq war ends so the Pentagon can repair and replace worn-out weapons and rebuild ground forces.
The Pentagon will certainly need help recovering, but the country cannot keep signing blank checks. The next president, and Congress, will finally have to impose some discipline, starting with an honest review of what is needed to keep America safe, not just enrich military contractors and their lobbyists.
Democrats have failed repeatedly to end the Iraq war or to substantially change its course. Now they face another test. Mr. Bush will try to ram his spending request through Congress before Christmas, using the impending holiday to create a false sense of urgency. They must resist that, and try again to use their power of the purse to force the president to begin serious planning for a swift and orderly exit from Iraq. They cannot have it both ways — opposing the war and enabling Mr. Bush to keep it going full speed and full cost ahead.
If the Republicans block that, then the Democrats must at least insist on the fiscal prudence that Mr. Bush and his party claim to believe in so fervently. Representative David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is already calling for a war tax. That, at least, would be a more honest and responsible way to ensure that all Americans share the financial burden of this war.