Published January 13, 2015
A top congressman, saying Democrats "have had it with being maneuvered and jerked around" on the war in Iraq, offered a new approach Tuesday to change the course of funding for the ongoing war: A war tax.
Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he will not allow a bill to come for debate to provide emergency supplemental funds for the war and suggested Americans should be compelled to pay for it through a "surtax."
Obey's proposal came on a day the House approved a plan to force President Bush to submit a troop withdrawal plan from Iraq, and then require regular updates on progress of the plan. The bill requires the administration to report to Congress on the status of redeployment plans in 60 days. Follow up reports would be required every 90 days thereafter. The House passed the plan 337-46.
Despite little support from other top Democrats for his tax idea, Obey appeared determined.
"The president isn't going to get a supplemental this year. I am not going to report a supplemental out" if it simply is a request for funds and not a change in direction for troops in Iraq," Obey said.
Obey suggested he is flexible as to what the change in policy proposes "so long as it represents real change and not camouflage."
A senior Senate Democratic leadership aide told FOX News that both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are considering their next moves on Iraq, especially as it relates to the emergency war spending bill, but Pelosi said a surtax is out of the question.
"Just as I have opposed the war from the outset, I am ... opposed to a war surtax," Pelosi said.
Obey said the annual cost for the war — $145 billion — could be paid by a tax that would range from 2 percent for low and middle income folks to 12-15 percent for higher income households.
"This war is draining the treasury dry. ... There is a huge opportunity cost that is being paid by the same younger generation that is going to be asked to pay the bill because the president is paying for this war on the cuff," Obey said. "If you don't like the cost, then shut down the war."
Obey said he has no expectation that the majority leadership in the House would embrace the tax, but wants to try to force the president's hand for this "misbegotten" war. He said that the tax would address the cost of the Iraq war, which he described as "not an intelligent use of resources," and is not related to operations in Afghanistan.
Obey's proposal received the expected response from Republicans, with one senior Senate GOP aide whose boss deals directly with tax policy ridiculing the surtax.
"What next? A tax on air?" the aide told FOX News. "Democrats are talking about the need to raise taxes to pay for the war while they're also trying to bully the Republicans and the president into $23 billion more in (2008 fiscal year) domestic spending — $23 billion that will balloon into $250 billion over 10 years. The problem isn't too few taxpayer dollars, its too much government spending."
"Time and time again, Democrats have demonstrated their willingness to write government checks for anything and everyone — except American troops fighting the War on Terror," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino also said that dog won't hunt.
"On this idea of raising taxes on the American people right now to fund a war, well, does that sunset? Do they wait for Al Qaeda to wave a white flag and then those taxes are going to go away? Does anyone seriously believe that the Democrats are going to end these new taxes that they're asking the American people to pay at a time when it's not necessary to pay them? I just think it's completely fiscally irresponsible, and the president won't go along with it," she said.
Democrats' Trouble With Iraq
The House bill passed Tuesday, sponsored by Democrats John Tanner of Tennessee and Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, was initially cast aside as too mild by Democratic leaders focused on tougher proposals ordering troops home this fall.
But after Democrats were unable to peel off Republican support, the Iraq debate stalled and some four dozen rank-and-file Democrats demanded a vote on the Abercrombie-Tanner bill.
"This will be the first time since the war in Iraq began that we are working together as a Congress instead of one party or another to be a constructive voice in the civilian management of operations in Iraq," Tanner said in a statement e-mailed to the Associated Press.
The latest bill doesn't set any timetable for a withdrawal, which allowed Republican leaders to give their caucus the go-ahead to vote in favor of the bill.
Obey's remarks and the House action followed Monday's vote in the Senate, in which Democrats helped pass a defense policy bill authorizing another $150 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The vote was 92-3.
Democrats so far have been thwarted in efforts to bring troops home from Iraq, and the developments underscored the difficulty facing them in the Iraq debate: They lack the votes to pass legislation ordering troops home and are divided on whether to cut money for combat, despite a mandate by supporters to end the war.
Hoping the political landscape changes in coming months, Democratic leaders say they will renew their fight when Congress considers the money Bush wants in war funding. But Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the defense subcommittee of the Senate appropriations panel, announced Tuesday that he will oppose any amendment to defense spending that "could jeopardize quick enactment of this bill."
Inouye is in charge of shepherding the bill to passage, and is sending a clear warning to Democrats like Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who want to dry up funding to force limiting the mission in Iraq. Feingold released a statement late Monday announcing his intention to offer an amendment to the defense spending bill that would do just that. Feingold said Iraq is the most important issue facing the U.S. and the Senate must address it without half-measures or compromises that do nothing to end the the Iraq war.
While the Senate policy bill authorizes the money to be spent, it does not guarantee it; Bush will have to wait until Congress passes a separate appropriations bill before war funds are transferred to military coffers.
"I think that's where you're going to see the next dogfight," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., of the upcoming war spending bill.
In February, Bush requested more than $140 billion for the war, and is expected to ask for another $42 billion to cover costs in the 2008 budget year, which began Monday. The Senate's defense policy bill authorizes Bush's initial request, plus an additional $23 billion for the purchase of bomb-resistant vehicles.
In addition to war money, the Senate's defense policy bill authorizes more than a half trillion dollars in annual military programs, including such big-ticket items as $10.1 billion for missile defense.
The House passed its version of the defense authorization bill in May by a 397-27 vote. That $646 billion measure would trim hundreds of millions of dollars from some weapons modernization programs and use the money instead to aid troops in combat.
The House bill has drawn a veto threat from the White House because of provisions insisting the military rely heavily on American-made products and proposed changes to the Pentagon's personnel policies. The Senate version, which would have to be reconciled with the House bill, also faces a veto possibility because it includes hate-crimes legislation by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
FOX News' Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.