Published November 23, 2009
Two top Democrats say they want to impose a new tax on the wealthy to finance any increase in U.S. troops for the Afghanistan war.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the purse string-controlling House Appropriations Committee, is calling the idea a "war surtax." He said that just as the federal government is expected to pay for its proposed intervention in the health care sector with new taxes, any escalated involvement in Afghanistan should come with a payment plan.
"If we have to pay for the health care bill, we should pay for the war as well ... by having a war surtax," Obey told ABC News in an interview that aired Monday. "The problem in this country with this issue is that the only people that has to sacrifice are military families and they've had to go to the well again and again and again and again, and everybody else is blithely unaffected by the war."
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is making a similar demand.
President Obama plans to hold his ninth meeting Monday evening with his national security team to discuss options for overhauling the strategy in Afghanistan. The president has been considering requests for tens of thousands more U.S. troops from his top commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, for nearly three months. He is not expected to announce his new strategy before Thanksgiving.
But any request would likely come with a hefty price tag. One option presented by McChrystal would bring 40,000 more troops into Afghanistan -- a proposal estimated to cost about $40 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
Obey said if an increase like that is approved without any payment mechanism, then other domestic initiatives would be wiped out.
"On the merits I think it's a mistake to deepen our involvement. But if we are going to do that, then at least we ought to pay for it. Because if we don't, if we don't pay for it, then the cost of the Afghan war will wipe out every other initiative that we have to rebuild our economy," he said. "Ain't going to be no money for nothing if we pour it all into Afghanistan."
Obey's proposal would be a "graduated tax" on income. It reportedly would start at 1 percent for low-income earners and rise to 5 percent for high-income earners. He's calling it a surtax because it would essentially be a tax on income that is already subject to federal income tax.
Levin, D-Mich., offered a similar proposal in an interview with Bloomberg Television. He said he wants an additional tax on those making more than $200,000 or $250,000.
"They have done incredibly well, and I think that it's important that we pay for it if we possibly can," Levin said.
But the tax talk comes as Congress is already considering new taxes and fees to pay for health care reform. The proposals put out by the House and Senate versions include taxes on high-value health care plans as well as new taxes on the wealthy.
Asked about the resistance he would likely face in a push for new taxes to finance the Afghanistan war, Obey suggested he would use his position as chairman to push his demand.
"I'm going to be there fighting to get whatever they do paid for," he said. "I don't give up before I start."
Fox News' Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.