The federal government will spend $2.4 trillion by 2017 for waging the “War on Terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was the most mind-boggling statistic to come from the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate released today on the rapidly rising costs of Bush’s war.
The number assumes that the current 200,00 U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will be reduced to 75,000 by 2013 and remain at that level by 2017. At a hearing of the House Budget Committee on Wednesday, CBO Director Peter Orzag described just how much money we’re talking about:
-$11 billion a month is being spent in funding for Afghanistan and Iraq– of which $9 billion goes to Iraq. In 2003, President Bush’s Budget Director, Mitch Daniels, estimated the cost of the Iraq War would be $50 to $60 billion.
-Of the $2.4 trillion figure, $1.7 trillion is the projected war costs over the next 10 years. Nearly $900 billion of this is for actually fighting the wars, while $700 billion will be used to pay off interest on the money borrowed to finance the wars.
-Bush is asking for $196 billion in war funding in next years’ budget. This is more money than the total budgets for the Department of Agriculture, Justice Department, FBI and Environmental Protection Agency.
The CBO did offer an alternative, withdrawal-based budget scenario where by 2010 there would only be 30,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. This would bring war costs to $570 billion by 2017.
At the same time, the CBO’s projection is not even a worst-case scenario. “This doesn’t consider if Vice-Preisdent Cheney is successful in invading Iran,” pointed out Texas Democratic Representative Lloyd Doggett. “This assumes troop levels will stay the same and then go lower.” Orzag also admitted that it’s hard to estimate the full veterans health-care costs, particularly in treating Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome.
During the hearing, Orzag was intent on pointing out to the committee that the “emergency funding” Bush keeps requesting for the Iraq War really isn’t emergency funding, noting that a lot of this money goes to buying equipment. “The purpose of ’emergency funding’ isn’t to replace a 1990 tank with a high-technology 2007 or 2008 tank,” Orzag said.
Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan, who spent most of the hearing as the only Republican there and only defender of the Bush policy, also declared, “We should be putting these [war] costs in our base budget.”
Democratic members made much of the absence of Republicans and the fact that Bush Administration officials declined to testify about the war costs. “Their absence speaks even louder than words and statistics,” Doggett huffed.
“Someday, somebody has to pay for this war and that’s going to be the children of the wounded,” Massachusetts Democratic Representative Jim McGovern noted. “I only wish the President was listening.” McGovern is one of several Democrats proposing a tax to pay for the war that Orzag called “unsustainable” in budgetary terms.