The policy debate in Washington is currently focused on two topics: a possible escalation of the war in Afghanistan and health care legislation. Both a troop escalation and health care reform 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.)
When it comes to these two debates, hawkish senators have laid out their priorities. They are more than willing to fund a risky troop surge that is increasingly opposed by both Americans and Afghans, yet remain stalwart opponents of health care reform that could save the lives of the 45,000 Americans who die every year because they lack access to health care.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) demonstrated this preference for war over health care and other essential domestic priorities during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday. He heartily endorsed “a new surge of forces” in Afghanistan while dismissing a war surtax proposed by Rep. David Obey (D-WI). Graham suggested that we “trim up” the health care bill to pay for the war, prompting Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to remark that Graham and other senate hawks have a “poor set of priorities”:
GRAHAM: We’ll be evaluated by some pretty tough characters in the world by how we handle Afghanistan. … We’re gonna have the troops in Afghanistan to win the conflict. [...]
STEPHANOPOULOS: Does [Obey] have a point [about the war surtax]? If we’re going to fight a war, shouldn’t the American people pay for it?
GRAHAM: Well, I’d like to have an endeavor to see if we can cut current spending…to pay for the war. … Can we trim up the health care bill and other big ticket items to pay for a war that we can’t afford to lose? [...]
SANDERS: What Senator Graham is now saying as I understand it is, hey we can cut back on education, so middle class families can’t afford to send their families to college. We don’t have to rebuild our infrastructure. We don’t have to invest in sustainable energy, so we stop importing $350 billion a year in foreign oil. Let’s just spend more money in Afghanistan while Europe and the people of China and the people of Russia watch us do that work. I think that is a very poor set of national priorities.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) echoed similar sentiments during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday. He suggested to host John King that health care legislation should be delayed until next year to focus on Afghanistan, saying, “The war is terribly important. … So this may be an audacious suggestion, but I would suggest we put aside the health care debate until next year, the same way we put cap and trade and climate change away and talk now about the essentials, war and money.”
Another Senate conservative, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), also denounced the idea of Obey’s war tax to pay for an escalation in Afghanistan. While telling a Fox News host that “there’s no bigger deficit hawk in Congress” than him, he suggested “cutting spending in other parts of the budget” rather than raising taxes, signaling that he, too, sees war as a greater priority than domestic counter-cyclical spending in this recessed economy.
As the number of Americans on food stamps rises to an all-time high, the unemployment rate hits double-digits, and Americans continue to perish due to lack of health coverage, how can these senators justify draining funding from crucial domestic programs to pay for an escalation of the war in Afghanistan?