U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost U.S.
taxpayers as much as $3.5 trillion through 2017 if both direct and indirect,
or "hidden," costs are taken into account, according to a new report
released Tuesday by Democrats in Congress.
The 27-page report, entitled "War
at Any Price?" [.pdf], concluded that the total economic costs incurred
to date including "hidden" expenses, such as higher oil prices,
interest on borrowing, and the long-term care of injured soldiers are
already about twice the $800 billion dollars the Bush administration has asked
Congress to appropriate through 2008.
"We cannot afford this war," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"We are funding this war with borrowed money, Americans are paying more
at the gas pump, and it will take years for our military to recover from the
damage of the president's failed war strategy."
"And if President Bush gets his way, and we do not significantly draw
down our troops [in Iraq], the total costs of this war will reach astronomical
heights," he added, noting the conclusions of the report, which was released
by the Democratic members of the Joint Economic Committee (JEC).
The report, which assumes that Washington will reduce its troop presence in
Iraq from the current 180,000 to about 90,000 by 2013 and then maintain some
75,000 troops there through 2017, comes amid a new struggle between congressional
Democrats and a few Republicans over next year's financing of the war, which
despite a recent reduction in violence, remains deeply unpopular with the electorate
here, according to recent polls.
It also comes amid growing evidence in recent public opinion polls that the
plight of the U.S. economy is becoming a much more important issue in the minds
of many people who will likely vote in next year's presidential election.
On the Iraq front, Democrats have offered to immediately approve $50 billion
out of a pending $200 billion administration request to finance both wars through
2008. Under the plan, the administration could use the $50 billion for funding
operations through early next year, at which time Congress would take up the
remaining $150 billion.
But the $50 billion in interim spending is conditioned on Bush's agreement
to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq immediately, with the goal of withdrawing
all U.S. combat troops about half the troops deployed there now
by the end of next year.
Bush has firmly resisted such a timetable in the past, but Democrats hope that
a sufficient number of Republican lawmakers will support such a plan that it
will overcome procedural hurdles that in the past have prevented bills requiring
withdrawal of U.S. troops from reaching the president's desk. But, if this bill
garners enough Republican backing, then Bush will be forced to decide whether
to veto or sign it.
During an off-the-record meeting last week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
reportedly told her fellow Democrats that if Bush vetoes the bill, then no additional
money for the war in Iraq will be approved this year, requiring the Pentagon
to divert money from other accounts to maintain operations there. Reid reiterated
that position Tuesday.
Even as Congress takes up continued war funding, however, concerns about the
economy and the growing possibility of a recession are grabbing the public limelight.
While the Democratic report does not explicitly link war costs to mounting
anxiety over the economy, it stresses that the economic costs of the war are
being borne by the taxpayer, above all.
"The backbreaking costs of this war to American families, the federal
budget, and the entire economy are beyond measure in many ways," said New
York Sen. Charles Schumer during the report's Capitol Hill release.
"The total economic cost of the war in Iraq to a family of four is $16,500
from 2002 to 2008," the report asserts in its main conclusions. "When
the war in Afghanistan is included, the burden to the American family is $20,900."
"The potential future impact on the family of four skyrockets to $36,900
for Iraq and $46,400 for Iraq and Afghanistan from 2002 to 2017," it states.
The report's total estimate for war costs from 2002 through 2017 is about $1
trillion more than that of a similar report by the nonpartisan Congressional
Budget Office (CBO) late last month.
While both reports made the same assumptions about troop levels over that period,
the CBO estimates were based mostly on the direct costs of the maintaining U.S.
operations in both countries, caring for wounded troops, and the costs of borrowing
the money needed to fund those costs.
The Democratic report, on the other hand, considers a much wider range of "hidden
costs," including higher energy prices resulting from the war's disruption
in the supply of oil ($270 billion); the loss or productive investment by U.S.
companies due to increased government borrowing to fund the war ($870 billion);
and other indirect costs.
Critics of the report said such estimates were highly speculative.
The report stressed that a faster and more sweeping drawdown of troops in Iraq,
in particular, would result in major savings. A rapid reduction to 10,000 U.S.
troops in Iraq by 2010 and a complete withdrawal after that date would knock
the total price for both Iraq and Afghanistan down to $2.6 trillion by 2017.
On the other hand, a status-quo scenario in which the current 180,000 troops
in Iraq are simply reduced to 155,000 by 2009 and then remain constant will
increase the total costs for both wars through 2017 to $4.5 trillion, according
to the report.
Some of the report's work is based on the methodology used by Nobel Economics
Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard lecturer Linda Bilmes, who early last year
gained headlines when they estimated the total cost of the Iraq war alone as
some $2 trillion, depending on how long it lasted.
In September, the American Friends Services Committee, a peace group, released
a report based on the Stiglitz-Bilmes findings that concluded that the war was
costing $720 million a day, the equivalent of providing health care for nearly
half a million U.S. children or buying the equipment to provide 1.27 million
U.S. homes with renewable energy.
(Inter Press Service)