Congress has a responsibility to provide the money to ensure that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have everything they need to fight and defend themselves. But that doesn't mean either the public or our elected officials should ignore the cost of those wars or assume that funding can be sustained indefinitely.
U.S. Rep. John Spratt, chairman of the House Budget Committee, wants Americans to be aware of what the wars are costing the nation and what the cost could be if troops remain in those countries for another decade. Spratt, whose district includes York and Chester counties, is not promoting a decrease in funding for the troops but wants to put the cost in perspective so both the public and policymakers will understand the tradeoffs.
The United States already has spent $600 billion on the wars, $450 billion of that on Iraq. Including requested appropriations for fiscal 2008, the total cost is about $800 billion, according to figures provided by the Congressional Budget Office at Spratt's request.
The CBO offered two scenarios in estimating future costs. One scenario involved a troop reduction from 200,000 in 2008 to 30,000 in 2010, and then remaining at that level through 2017. Estimated additional cost: $570 billion.
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The other scenario calculated the cost of maintaining a force of 75,000 troops from 2013 to 2017. Estimated cost: $859 billion.
But, for the first time, the CBO also figured in the cost of interest in its estimates because the war essentially has been paid for with borrowed money. Interest on spending so far would total $415 billion, with another $175 billion for the first scenario and another $290 billion for the second.
In all, total costs through 2017 could reach $2.4 trillion, which CBO officials called "an unsustainable path." Spratt also noted that the $2.4 trillion estimate is half of what it would take to keep Social Security solvent for 75 years.
White House officials dismissed this exercise, saying it is impossible to make long-term predictions in an ever-changing war. But there is no denying what the two wars have cost the nation to date, and the record is clear that the Bush administration woefully underestimated the cost of the Iraq war at its outset.
Spratt stresses that he has supported every supplemental budget request to ensure that troops in harm's way have what they need to succeed. But he also believes Americans should know what the price tag is.
We agree. While cost is not the only factor or even the most important factor to consider in regard to the war, it is significant enough to be a big part of the discussion.
And that discussion should include the question of whether national security truly is enhanced by borrowing up to $2.4 trillion to continue the war in Iraq.
Cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could top $2.4 trillion over the next decade.
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