How Will Congress Pay for the Afghan Surge?

Dems divided on how to pay for deployment as conflicts' total cost soars

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December 2, 2009
By Paul Kane
Washington Post/MSNBC

President Obama's decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan ensures what was already inevitable: The cost of the wars in that country and Iraq is about to exceed $1 trillion. Less certain for Congress is how to pay for it.

Photo: President Obama announces Afghan plan in Eisenhower Hall at the U.S. Military Academy on Tuesday evening. (By Robert Deutsch, USA Today)

The new Afghanistan strategy will cost at least $30 billion more than current spending, and Democrats were divided Tuesday on what to do. Key leaders rejected a proposal from liberal members to impose a "war tax" that would hit workers earning as little as $30,000 a year, but they offered no plan of their own.

Before leaving for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Obama huddled with about 30 top lawmakers from both parties at the White House, winning support from key Republicans for the new strategy. "Republicans are going to be supportive of funding for these troops," Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), the senior Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, said after the meeting.

But Lewis rejected calls for increased taxes and instead urged Obama to pare back money to federal agencies, many of which are slated to receive double-digit increases in funding for fiscal 2010. Other Republicans suggested using unspent stimulus funds.

GOP support could be critical to the new strategy's success on Capitol Hill, where overall cost concerns have grown in the run-up to Obama's announcement. Congress is days away from approving the annual Pentagon spending bill, which includes about $130 billion in funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Once that bill is approved, the Pentagon's total tab for the wars will come to more than $1 trillion since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan eight years ago, according to the Congressional Research Service.

A third of those funds have gone to the Afghan front, but that region is quickly becoming the more expensive battleground. If the new funding is approved, the total cost for next year's operations in Afghanistan will come to about $100 billion. That's up from $43 billion for fiscal 2008 and $55 billion for fiscal 2009, according to the research service.

Obama's proposal would place more than 200,000 troops altogether in Afghanistan and Iraq. If the troop level across both nations averages 75,000 through the next decade, the operations will cost an additional $867 billion -- more than the $848 billion health-care legislation the Senate is considering.

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