The Meaning of the War Tax

Posted on



The LA Times writes “”The suggestion that a surtax be used to help fund the increasingly unpopular war, though unlikely to pass, illustrated the fiscal anxieties that the president will face if he asks Congress to write another big-ticket item into the budget.” Spencer Ackerman disagrees:

I see very little evidence to support the assertion that the tax is “unlikely to pass.” It looks rather like a prerequisite for escalating the war in Congress. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee has railed in favor of paying for the war as the centrists demand paying for domestic policy initiatives. And it’s important to remember that this is a Congress that, as Pelosi says, has a great deal of anxiety and antipathy to the war already. For eight years Congress wrote blank checks for wars without strategies for successful conclusions. They did so, at least at first, because they felt that there would be no way the Bush administration could wage wars indefinitely and no administration could actually lack strategies for ending them. And here we are.

I see the case that a war tax is unlikely to pass, but I think it’s clear that the war tax initiative almost certainly will have substantial legislative impact. Having this idea advocated by big-time committee chairs creates a situation in which you can easily imagine a very large proportion of the House Democratic caucus adopting a “no war tax, no war appropriations” position. If it comes to that, then the administration should still be able to pass a war spending bill relying on Republican and Blue Dog votes. But once it’s clear that Obama needs their support to pass the bill, then it’s a good opportunity for Republican members to make demands of their own—no war funding without tax cuts. Then suddenly the administration and the “moderates” are in a pickle.

And one seemingly clean way out of the dilemma would be to simply admit that David Obey is right about this. If health reform needs to cut the deficit, and if other domestic spending needs to follow PAYGO rules, then increases in military spending should be financed through increases in taxes.

The thing to watch will be the attitude of Nancy Pelosi and her key proxies. It’s noteworthy that Rep. Obey’s bloc of leadership liberals for the war tax did not include either Henry Waxman or George Miller. That mustachioed duo can usually be counted on to serve as the leading edge of a Pelos-backed initiative. It was clear on her call with bloggers earlier this week that the Speaker sympathizes with the war tax concept, but she wasn’t ready to embrace it.