The Iraq price tag keeps going up

On Dec. 15, President Bush once again berated Congress for not giving him more spending for the Iraq War. But Congress is right to resist his browbeating.

Before launching the Iraq War, the administration claimed that the war would cost American taxpayers a mere $50 billion. Now the extra money that Bush demands would bring the total so far to more than half a trillion dollars.

It won’t end here.

In the New Year, Congress will consider up to $200 billion. In future years, aside from the costs of bombs, bullets and combat pay, we can expect to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in veterans’ health care and disability payments. The total cost may well exceed $2 trillion, as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has estimated.

Every dollar spent on this war is a dollar we cannot invest in our country and our communities.

Think what we could have done with this money. The $500 billion that Bush has squandered in Iraq could have paid for 4 million new housing units, or hired 8 million new teachers. And the $2 trillion we may end up spending on this war could pay for universal health care for 12 years.

While Congress was funding this war, levees were breaking in New Orleans, a bridge was collapsing in St. Paul and fires were raging in Southern California. With much of the National Guard deployed in Iraq, we did not have sufficient resources to handle these disasters.

Economics 101 teaches us that government spending is good for the economy. A dollar spent by the government results in job creation, which results in income for the employed person, which results in the employed person having money to spend at the supermarket, corner restaurant, or movie theater. Those businesses flourish, they can hire more people and so the economy grows.

But the story is more complicated. Not all government spending is equal.

Every billion dollars spent on the military results – directly and indirectly – in fewer jobs and lower quality jobs than a billion dollars spent on education, a recent analysis published by the Political Economy Research Institute (an organization one of us works for) shows. That is, the effects of military spending ripple through the economy with much less vigor than government spending on other programs.

Plus, domestic spending has a longer-lasting impact on the economy. A well-educated, healthy workforce, along with investment in infrastructure, will fuel the new industries of tomorrow.

But instead of investing in our economy, we are throwing money out the window on a misguided venture. More tragically, thousands of young men and women in their prime are being killed or face a lifetime of disabling injuries.

As the president presses for more war funding, he vetoes spending on critical needs in our country. What will we have left to defend if our government doesn’t use its means to protect our jobs, health, infrastructure and general standard of living? What are we fighting for?

“History teaches that wars begin when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap,” President Reagan said on Jan. 16, 1984.

We are learning only too well that the price of President Bush’s aggression is not cheap.

Anita Dancs is research director of the National Priorities Project (www.nationalpriorities.org) and Heidi Garrett-Peltier is a researcher with the Political Economy Research Institute (www.peri.umass.edu). They can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.