In recent days, heated policy discussions in Washington have largely focused on two topics: a possible escalation of the war in Afghanistan and health care legislation. Both a troop escalation and health care legislation carry significant price tags: roughly $100 billion and $80-$100 billion a year respectively. (It should be noted that health care reform, unlike a troop surge, would cut the deficit.)
In his New York Times column today, columnist Nicholas Kristof asks why hawks claim health reform is “fiscally irresponsible” while enthusiastically supporting a troop surge in Afghanistan, given the fact that fixing our broken health care system is, unlike a troop surge, essential to the health and well-being of Americans:
The health care legislation pays for itself, according to the Congressional Budget Office, while the deployment in Afghanistan is unfinanced and will raise our budget deficits and undermine our long-term economic security.
So doesn’t it seem odd to hear hawks say that health reform is fiscally irresponsible, while in the next breath they cheer a larger deployment of troops in Afghanistan?
Meanwhile, lack of health insurance kills about 45,000 Americans a year, according to a Harvard study released in September. So which is the greater danger to our homeland security, the Taliban or our dysfunctional insurance system?
Indeed, hawkish legislators have lined up to both demand a costly surge in U.S. troops in Afghanistan while at the same time claiming that deficit-cutting health care legislation would simply be too expensive:
— Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has called for providing the “resources [needed]” for a “significant increase in U.S. forces” while warning that he is “really worried about what [health care reform] would do to the deficit.” [9/13/09, 10/26/09]
— Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has complained that passing health care legislation would “expand government spending even more,” while also boasting of his Republican caucus’s “broad support” for any troop increase in Afghanistan. [10/21/09, 10/11/09]
— Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wrote a letter to President Obama stating that we “urgently need more resources” in Afghanistan, “including more combat troops,” while at the same time claiming that passing health care legislation would be tantamount to “generational theft” that would run up “unconscionable and unsustainable deficits.” [11/10/09, 8/27/09]
Kristof’s question bears answering. Why is it that hawkish lawmakers are so willing to spend such enormous resources in both lives and treasure on a troop surge in Afghanistan that is increasingly opposed by Americans and Afghans, but are so quick to bark at the price tag of health care legislation that could save the lives of the 45,000 Americans who die every year because they don’t have access to health care? As Glenn Greenwald notes, “Urging that more Americans be sent into endless war paid for with endless debt, while yawning and lazily waving away with boredom the hordes outside dying for lack of health care coverage, is one of the most repugnant images one can imagine.”