November 30, 2009

David Obey on CNN's State of the Union takes the President to task for the proposed troop surge in Afghanistan and defends his case for a war tax. I agree with Rep. Obey that if we're going to make our members of Congress defend spending on things like health care and stimulus, then they should also be saying how we're going to be paying for these military engagements. Personally I think we should be getting out of Afghanistan rather than looking at how to pay for it, but if we are going to stay there, the cost should not be allowed to be added to our debt.

Of course the right wingers are all going nuts that anyone dare request we pay for invading other countries while demanding that our Congress members explain how they're going to pay for things that help our citizens dig out of this recession.

KING: I'm going to hold up the headline, here, of the Washington Times, "Obama Faces Hard Sell on Afghan War Decision."

I want to get, in a moment, to your proposal to how to pay for this, if the president goes forward with this. But just on the merits, 30,000-plus more troops to Afghanistan: a good idea or a bad idea?

OBEY: The problem is that you can have the best policy in the world, but if you don't have the tools to implement it, it isn't worth a beanbag. And I don't think we have the tools in the Pakistani government and I don't think we have the tools in the Afghan government. And until we do, I think much of what we do is a fool's errand.

KING: If you can see it so clearly, why can't the president of the United States, if you're right?

OBEY: Well, the president sits in a different position. I mean, he has inherited an absolute mess. No matter what he does, it's a -- it's a no-winner. And I -- you know, I have a great deal of respect for the way he's gone about this process. But the Pentagon...

KING: But you think he's wrong?

OBEY: Well, the Pentagon has only one job, and that's to talk about this war and this war only. But he has, and I have jobs that require us to look at everything else that's tied into it.

I have to look at the entire federal budget, as chairman of the committee, for instance. I have to see what $400 billion or $500 billion, $600 billion, $700 billion, over a decade, for this effort, will cost us on education, on our efforts to build the entire economy. And -- and when you look at it that way, I come to a different conclusion than he does.

KING: And if he goes forward, and even if we stayed at the current level, you believe the American people need greater transparency, greater clarity about how much this is costing.

So you've proposed something, along with several of your colleagues, the Share the Sacrifice act of 2010.

I want to show some of the details of it. Couples earning up to $150,000 would see a 1 percent tax increase. Your proposal would exempt service men and women and their families who served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, and it would exempt families who have lost an immediate relative in the war.

So if you make 150 grand or more, you would pay 1 percent, and then you would escalate up. If you made 250 grand, you'd pay more, and so on up the scale, correct?

OBEY: Yes. And my point and our point is simply that, in this war, we have not had any sense of shared sacrifice. The only people being asked to sacrifice are military families. They've had to go to the well again and again and again. And yet everybody else in society -- you know, they're essentially told to go shopping by the previous president.

I just think that, if this war is important enough to engage in the long term, it's important enough to pay for.

We're told by people like General Petraeus that we need to be prepared to commit eight to 10 years. First of all, I don't think that's sustainable, but if you're going to do that, at least you ought to pay for it so it doesn't destroy every other effort that we need to make to rebuild our own economy.

KING: The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee can do a lot, but to pass that proposal, you need the support of the speaker. What does she say? OBEY: I have no idea where anyone in the leadership will stand, except John Larson, who is a co-sponsor of this proposal. So is Jack Murtha, the Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. So are a number of other people -- Chairman Frank from the banking committee. And my impression is that Charlie Rangel, the -- or the Ways and Means Committee chair is also interested in the idea.

KING: Has anyone in the leadership or anyone at the White House asked you, "Mr. Chairman, we understand your point, but we don't want to be talking about taxes heading into the midterm election campaign, where we're already talking about taxes in the health care debate?"

OBEY: No, I think people understand where we're coming from. And I think people understand that we're doing this because we believe it's the right thing to do on the merits.

I'm -- I'm very dubious about this whole effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but if we're going to do it, we shouldn't do it in a way which will destroy every other initiative that we have to rebuild our own economy.

KING: There was talk during the final years of the Bush administration, when Democrats came back into power, of trying to block him. Will you go so far with a Democratic president or are you more deferential because, of a Democrat in the White House, where you can say, "I oppose it; I think it's a bad idea; I think we should do this to pay for it," but would you try to get in front of the train?

OBEY: I owe it to any president to listen to what he has to say before I say what I'm going to do. The important thing is not what Dave Obey is going to do. The important thing is what the country is going to do, long term.

KING: I'm going to get up and go over to the map because I want to try to connect the dots, as you connect them, to talk to the American people.

This is a map, of course, of the Middle East region. And I'm going to pull out Afghanistan because I just want to highlight this point. We've discussed this a little bit and you know these numbers very well.

Over $223 billion have been allocated to Afghanistan since the beginning of the war back in 2001; $38 billion in U.S. aid for reconstruction; at the moment, 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, and the president, of course, prepared to go higher than that.

Now, I want to bring the debate back home by bringing us back around this way, and I want to show you these states here.

Here's the United States here. Let's zone in on unemployment. With these colors here, you see the states in red, 23 of them, unemployment went up last month. The states in green, the unemployment rate dropped a little bit last month. But you see all that red, double-digit unemployment across the country. Mr. Chairman, the president will have a job summit on Thursday at the White House. If he could do one thing -- if you could ask him to do one thing to create jobs in those states that are red and in the rest of the United States, what would it be?

OBEY: I think the most important thing is to help state and local governments. We've been trying to fill over a $2 trillion hole in the economy with the budget stimulation package because of the collapse of the private economy in the previous administration.

We were be able to fill about 40 percent of the hole in those state budgets, but in the next year, our capacity is going to drop to fill only about 20 percent of that hole. That would mean that states would be raising taxes and cutting services at the very time we're trying to expand the economy. That's counterproductive. So I think that really is what has to be done.

KING: Are you worried about the political price of more deficit spending to do that? The American people, increasingly, if you look at polls, are getting nervous about all the deficit spending.

OBEY: We'll do what we think is right and worry about the polls later. But I want to make one other point.

We've been told for a year that we need to pay for every dollar that it's going to cost us to reform our health care system. That's about $900 billion over 10 years.

OBEY: If we wind up being committed in Afghanistan for eight to 10 years, that's also going to approach $800 billion to $900 billion. And if we're going to do that, it seems to me that if we're being told we have to pay for health care, we certainly ought to pay for this effort as well.

KING: The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Congressman David Obey, sir, we hope you'll come back as this debate continues in the weeks and months ahead.

Can you help us out?

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