Walter Pincus wonders how Americans lost the will to pay for our wars
"The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan represented the first time that a U.S. president did not seek new taxes to cover the fighting. Supported by a GOP-led House and Senate from 2001 through 2006, and then just the GOP-run House, Bush raised the debt ceiling seven times through 2008, almost doubling it, from about $6 trillion to $11.3 trillion."
-- Walter Pincus, in a WaPo "Fine Print" column,
"Debt and deficit lessons from 1917"
"Debt and deficit lessons from 1917"
For a couple of days now I've been trying to figure out how to write about Dexter Filkins's timely piece in the new (Dec. 17) New Yorker, "General Principles: How good was David Petraeus?." It's a question that's been on my mind for a while, and I can't think of any one better equipped to tackle it than frequent war-zone correspondent Filkins. (Tip: For once, a piece I want to talk about is actually available on newyorker.com. Why not just read it yourself?)
One of the things that has gotten in the way of writing about the Petraeus piece is that Filkins lands us in so many crucial "side" issues, like for example the mind-bogglingly stupidiity and savagery and grinding, all-encompassing incompetence of the mighty triumvirate of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld that got us into the Iraq quagmire -- measures of stupidity, savagery, and incompetence that haven't even begun to be reckoned with. If the had, the three of them would by now be sitting on Death Row, ideally in a special Gunatánamo version featuring the kind of humane treatment they cooked up for the hordes of indiscriminately arrested nobodies rounded up on their watch for no good reason whatsoever. In this special Death Row I'm imagining, the architects of this ideological psychosis would be specially not-tortured, in just the way that they assured us we don't torture prisoners. In fact, I would like to see them not-tortured for at least several hours a day, until they signed affidavits apologizing for having been born and turning over all their assets, and the assets of anyone else which trace back to their stewardship, to begin repaying the massive bill that finally came due once they were safely the hell out of office.
Talk about irony! It's thanks to Petraeus that it's possible for right-wingers to pretend that the Bush regime's invasion of Iraq was actually vindicated by subsequent events. But of course it's highly unlikely in any event that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld would have paid any price, let alone the price they deserved to pay, for what they did in Iraq, because the judging is done by right-wingers who have officially abandoned any connection to any standard of truth. I mean, these people really believe that their mendacious and delusional fun-house-mirror version of reality has official standing, and that they have a God-given right to lie at all times, large and small, without any limit whatsoever.
I always feel that I'm mostly talking to myself when I repeat the (to me) obvious reality that today every word out of the mouth out of every right-winger is a lie. However, I got a genuine lift the other day from Dan Froomkin's HuffPost report the other day, "How the Mainstream Press Bungled the Single Biggest Story of the 2012 Campaign," based on conversations with that indomitable conservative-but-sane DC duo of Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein --
[A]ccording to longtime political observers Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, campaign coverage in 2012 was a particularly calamitous failure, almost entirely missing the single biggest story of the race: Namely, the radical right-wing, off-the-rails lurch of the Republican Party, both in terms of its agenda and its relationship to the truth.(The "publicly concluded" link, by the way, is to an op-ed piece that Mann and Ornstein penned for the Washington Post last April, "Let's just say it: The Republicans are the problem.")
Mann and Ornstein are two longtime centrist Washington fixtures who earlier this year dramatically rejected the strictures of false equivalency that bind so much of the capital's media elite and publicly concluded that GOP leaders have become "ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."
The 2012 campaign further proved their point, they both said in recent interviews. It also exposed how fabulists and liars can exploit the elite media's fear of being seen as taking sides.
"The mainstream press really has such a difficult time trying to cope with asymmetry between the two parties' agendas and connections to facts and truth," said Mann, who has spent nearly three decades as a congressional scholar at the centrist Brookings Institution.
"I saw some journalists struggling to avoid the trap of balance and I knew they were struggling with it -- and with their editors," said Mann. "But in general, I think overall it was a pretty disappointing performance."
"I can't recall a campaign where I've seen more lying going on -- and it wasn't symmetric," said Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who's been tracking Congress with Mann since 1978. Democrats were hardly innocent, he said, "but it seemed pretty clear to me that the Republican campaign was just far more over the top." . . .
Really, the way the current "negotiations" over the fiscal-cliff situation should go is this: Democrats, who admittedly have far from clean hands in these matters, should nevertheless point out at every "negotiating" session: "Every word out of your mouths is a lie. Either stop lying or blow your brains out and see if it's possible to have you replaced by people who at least know what truth is." And then they should appear in front of the TV cameras and say: "Regrettably no progress was made today because every word out of the mouths of every Republican is a lie, and there are apparently no Republicans who are not pathological liars. This is a problem."
MEANWHILE, WALTER PINCUS POINTS OUT THE
FINANCIAL CHICANERY OF THE BUSH REGIMISTAS
Again, it's really a shame that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld aren't in their tiny Death Row
(I didn't say that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld should be the only ones in our new Guantánamo Death Row.)
Pincus invites us to go back in time.
As some Republicans again threaten to use the debt limit statute next year to leverage protection of tax rates for the wealthy, it's worth going back 95 years to see how Americans viewed taxes and spending when that law passed.Pincus takes us back through the political battles of 1917, to the U.S. declaration of war agains Germany on Apr. 6, 1917, after which President Wilson "quickly sought help from Congress to raise the war funds.
The statute was born out of the need to pay for government spending from our entrance into World War I. George W. Bush's White House didn’t consider such an issue when it launched its war on terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks or undertook the more costly invasion of Iraq in 2003.
America in 1917 did not fight on a credit card. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson, with Congress's support, raised taxes and sold Liberty Bonds to cover costs. Bush, by contrast, had just lowered taxes and underestimated the costs of his military efforts. Borrowing to pay for the war helped lead to the current fiscal crisis.
Sen. Furnifold Simmons (D-N.C.) argued, "It has been the custom of this country to pay war bills by bond issues, and I see no reason for a change in that policy."Within 18 days, we learn, "Congress unanimously passed the largest bond bill in U.S. history," authorizing the sale of $5.5 billion. In May $2 billion worth were put on sale, and "5 million people offered to buy $3 billion worth."
Financier J.P. Morgan said up to 20 percent should come from taxes. Treasury Secretary William McAdoo thought raising taxes for half was best, while some members of Congress said taxes the first year should provide 75 percent of war costs.
In another five months Congress passed the War Revenue Act, "which was designed to raise $2.5 billion annually.
As the Treasury Department noted in a report, "This amount was believed by Congress to be as large as could be levied reasonably and fairly at this time. Every effort was made to distribute the burden of taxation where it could most easily be borne without hardship to the individual or injury to the productive power of the nation."Did you get that? "
More than $1 billion was to come from an excess-profits tax on corporations, individuals and partnerships whose profits "have been increased enormously by war business, or business incident to the war," Treasury said.
Rates were also raised on corporations and the wealthy, personal exemptions for married and single taxpayers were reduced slightly and excise taxes were raised on liquor and tobacco products. Everyone paid something to support the war.
* Every effort was made to distribute the burden of taxation where it could most easily be borne."
* There was to be "an excess-profits tax on corporations, individuals and partnerships whose profits 'have been increased enormously by war business, or business incident to the war.'"
* "Rates were also raised on corporations and the wealthy, personal exemptions for married and single taxpayers were reduced slightly and excise taxes were raised on liquor and tobacco products. Everyone paid something to support the war."
The debt limit came into being later in 1917, as Congress was authorizing the second sale of Liberty Bonds, as part of a way of "giv[ing] Treasury a better way to manage raising funds."
The limit was set above the debt so the government was free to raise funds when needed. For example, in 1919 the debt limit was set at $43 billion when the debt was $25.5 billion.Pincus then takes us through the intertwined history of the raising of the debt limit and the need to pay for, first, World War II, then Vietnam (not Korea -- "that conflict was mostly financed by increased taxes"), and even the first Iraq war, which the first President Bush paid for with a combination of spending cuts and, violating his sacred "no new taxes" oath," tax increases.
Then came Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. Already wars of choice had been massively facilitated by the elmination of the draft. The troika knew they wouldn't be caught drafting America's youth wholesale into their crack-brained foreign adventures. And another crucial lesson learned from Vietnam: Americans wouldn't be watching their children flown home in body bags. Bad for morale, that.
There still remained the matter of paying for the Bush regime's planned orgy of bully-boy bravado. For one thing, we know, the clever idea arose of keeping as much as possible of the actual expenditures out of, or invisible in, the budget. But of course the bills still had to be managed somehow.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan represented the first time that a U.S. president did not seek new taxes to cover the fighting. Supported by a GOP-led House and Senate from 2001 through 2006, and then just the GOP-run House, Bush raised the debt ceiling seven times through 2008, almost doubling it, from about $6 trillion to $11.3 trillion.I know Obama talked a lot about at least getting Iraq and Afghanistan expenditures into the legit federal budget, so we would at least know where the money is going. How much of that he did, I don't know. And while he hasn't broken the Bush regime dependency on raising the debt limit, the financial catastrophe he inherited hasn't given him much financing flexibility, short of drastically reducing the outflow of U.S. expenditures on those wars, not to mention DoD preparations for even more wasteful wars to come. All of this would have taken either more political courage or more political will than this president has.
President Obama followed suit. In November 2009, Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) and others introduced a bill for a surtax to help pay for the war. They had no support from leaders of either party or Obama.
The fiscal cliff is just weeks away, and the debt limit will come up probably next month.
Walter Pincus has one remaining question.
The fiscal cliff is just weeks away, and the debt limit will come up probably next month.By which I don't think he means people who do no more than mindless shout, "Support the troops."
Where are leaders like those in 1917? Where are the American people who willingly shared new tax burdens, at least to pay for their forces fighting overseas?