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Sen. Franken Op-Ed: Paying for our Wars

Monday, April 25, 2011

Over the last nine years, we've spent well over one trillion dollars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and we've had to borrow nearly every penny of it.

Over the last nine years, we've spent well over one trillion dollars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and we've had to borrow nearly every penny of it. We have to ensure that the deficits created by Iraq and Afghanistan remain exceptions in American history, which is why I've introduced legislation to require that spending on new wars be paid for. My "Pay for War" resolution will ensure that future wars don't make our deficit and debt problems worse. It will ensure that Congress and American citizens face the financial sacrifice of going to war. And it will force us to decide whether a war is worth that sacrifice.

How would the Pay for War bill work? Put simply, if we spend money on a new war beyond what's in the day-to-day defense budget, my legislation says that spending must be paid for. My bill does not specify how we should pay for our wars. It leaves that up to Congress. Different people will have different ideas-some may propose spending cuts; others may propose revenue increases. But the bottom line is that my bill says Congress must find a way to pay for the costs of new wars that we decide to undertake, and I believe doing this will have several key benefits for our country.

First, the financial cost of war should be clear, not hidden. We paid for our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by borrowing from other countries and passing emergency spending bills outside of the regular federal budget. The result is that the public gets the mistaken impression that going to war requires no financial sacrifice. We know that that's just not true. The question is, who will bear that financial sacrifice - the generation that has decided to go to war, or its children and grandchildren?

Second, war shouldn't add to the deficit. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't singlehandedly create our deficit problem, but they made it much worse. And if we're going to fix our deficit problem, rejecting how we financed those wars has to be part of the solution.

Finally, all Americans, not just the military, should feel the cost of war. A huge gap has grown between the majority of the American people and the small proportion that serves in the military. So much sacrifice has been asked of them and their families, yet so little of the rest of us. My resolution will reconnect those who serve and our larger society. My bill re-establishes the connection between the citizenry of the U.S. and the costs of going to war - a burden that is now solely undertaken by the men and women of the military and their families.

My bill wouldn't impede necessary military action. For emergencies, my resolution allows Congress to override the ‘pay for' requirement by a vote of sixty senators. This is so that if there were a genuine emergency that required immediate military response in the short term, and it couldn't be covered by the base defense budget, my resolution would not tie our hands.

The idea that we should pay for our wars is not a Democratic idea, and it's not a Republican idea. It's not left or right. It's not anti-war; it's not pro-war. It's just common sense.

We need to start paying for wars. And it needs to be a part of a larger conversation about how to address our nation's deficit and debt.


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