How Not to Pay For a War

I’d like to thank the team at Angry Bear for giving me this opportunity to answer questions about my new book, “The Price of Liberty: Paying for America’s Wars.” If you haven’t gotten a chance yet, I encourage you to read the Outlook piece I wrote for the Washington Post on May 6. This piece contains a few ideas distilled from my book. The Post has been kind enough to let us circulate it.

There’s a popular post on this blog called “How Not to Run a War.” Taking a cue from that, I want to briefly talk about “How Not to Pay For a War.”

We shouldn’t pay for a war by INCREASING spending on non-essential domestic programs, particularly by increasing spending for “earmarked” politically inspired projects meant to satisfy domestic constituencies. In every war of the past, our government has cut non essential spending to make room in the budget to pay for the war. Not this time.

We should not pay virtually the entire cost of a war with “emergency supplementals” which skirt the normal budget process and thus avoid the normal scrutiny of determining what is really needed and what the tradeoffs are; even during the unpopular Vietnam War the use of supplementals was limited after the first couple of years.

And we should reflect in this post-Memorial Day period on a situation in which most Americans have been treated to tax cuts and many benefit from domestic spending for politically-inspired projects and generous subsidies while Americans fighting abroad and their families are making major sacrifices. That is unfair and unjust, and not consistent with the best traditions of America. No matter what one thinks of the war the troops should be well equipped, our wounded veterans should be given the best of care, and military families should be given the help they need to live at decent standards while their breadwinners are fighting abroad.

The challenge now is to learn from our mistakes and take them into account as we as a country determine how to pay for the longer war against terrorism and to be sure that the US remains financially resilient enough to counter future threats to our well being — whether from a catastrophic act of terrorism, foreign crises that may erupt in areas such as the Middle East that threaten our allies or oil, another devastating hurricane or a major pandemic.

So how should we prepare to pay for our future security over coming years? It won’t be easy given other demands on the budget, particularly projections for the rapidly growing costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the decade ahead.

And how do we meet the costs of these programs and our national security requirements without producing massive budget deficits and/or huge tax hikes? Or are these unavoidable?

I have some thoughts on these issues, which are included in my book and which I am looking forward to discussing on this blog tour over the next several days, but my major objective is to develop a dialogue in the hope that thoughtful people of various views can come up with sound solutions.

I welcome YOUR thoughts on these questions and promise to respond as soon as possible. Many thanks for joining me in the quest for answers to these difficult but important questions.

Bob Hormats, Author,
“The Price of Liberty: Paying for America’s Wars” (Times Books)

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