One Trillion Dollars? | Congress Kicks Back on War Funding | Hillary’s Iran Flip-Flop

The $50 Billion War—By 2004, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s 2003 prediction that the Iraq War would cost $50 billion was recognized as wildly off the mark, even if Rumsfeld didn’t realize it. Rumsfeld is no longer handicapping war costs, but Steven M. Kosiak at the non-profit Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments is. Kosiak pulled together numbers from Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports released in June and July, and they revealed the following: the war in Iraq—when funding for the 2008 fiscal year is included—comes in at $647.5 billion, and counting.

How high will costs climb? The CBO made predictions based on two scenarios. Scenario 1 envisions the withdrawal of almost all troops by 2010, leaving a small (30,000) force in Iraq through 2017. Cost: an additional $481-$603 billion. Scenario 2 envisions reduction of troops to about 75,000 in Iraq by 2013—and maintaining a force of that size thereafter. Cost: an additional $845-$931 billion. (Both plans assume that there would be some troops in Afghanistan.) Added to what has already been appropriated and spent, each CBO scenario projects total war spending in excess of $1 trillion. The total war costs would be much lower if U.S. combat forces were withdrawn from Iraq more quickly, as has been proposed by some Democratic members of Congress.

The Buck Stops Here—House Appropriations Chair David Obey’s threat to tie up the $190 billion Iraq supplemental bill in the Appropriations Committee is the first serious legislative obstacle the White House has faced in its Iraq War policy. Obey is a Wisconsin labor liberal who was the youngest member of the House when he replaced Melvin Laird in 1969. He is an institutionalist, a master of House proceedings, and chair of one of the most powerful Congressional committees. Although his plan to block the Iraq War supplemental is not backed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he is close to the speaker and widely respected in the House. Coming one week after West Virginia’s Robert Byrd responded angrily to Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s request for an additional $42.3 billion—”This committee will not, n-o-t, not rubber-stamp every request submitted by the President!”—Obey’s warning is a clear sign that the president will at least have to negotiate with Congressional Democrats regarding the war. Byrd, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has not specified how he will proceed with Bush’s Iraq funding request. Obey linked Appropriations Committee action on the $190 billion supplemental to a 2009 troop withdrawal commitment. He also proposed a war surtax of from 2 to 15 percent on individual tax bills to raise $150 billion each year to fund the war.

Hillary’s Second Thoughts—Former Alaska senator Mike Gravel turned up the heat on Senator Hillary Clinton at the September 27 Democratic candidates’ debate. “Joe Lieberman,” Gravel said, “who authored the Iraq resolution, has authored another resolution, and it is essentially a fig leaf to let George Bush go to war with Iran. And I want to congratulate [Delaware Senator Joe] Biden for voting against it, [Connecticut Senator Chris] Dodd for voting against it.” Then he turned to Clinton, who was standing immediately to his right. “And I’m ashamed of you, Hillary, for voting for it.” Clinton literally laughed Gravel off.

“You’re not going to get a second shot at this,” Gravel said. But Clinton did take a second shot, quickly signing on to an amendment, sponsored by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), that would require the president to obtain authorization from Congress before undertaking any broad military attack on Iran. Webb’s position was clear. Speaking on the Senate floor in March, the Virginia senator said the signing statement President Bush attached to the 2002 Congressional resolution authorizing the Iraq War “indicates this administration believes it possesses the broadest imaginable authority to commence military operation without the consent of Congress.” In joining Webb’s effort to impose restrictions on the president’s expanding war-making powers, Clinton seemed to be repudiating her vote for the resolution Gravel had impugned at the debate. It was put forth by Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and passed the Senate by a 76-22. The Kyl-Lieberman sense-of-the-Senate resolution urged the State Department to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and, more important, declared that the U.S. should prevent Iran from using Shia extremists to destabilize Iraq.