Rep. Murtha says he is open to raising taxes to fund Afghanistan troop surge

Rep. John Murtha on Thursday said he is open to raising taxes if President Barack Obama decides to send more troops to Afghanistan.

“This is an expensive proposition,” Murtha (D-Pa.) told The Hill. “If we send more troops over, how are we going to pay for them? We should raise taxes.”

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In a subsequent interview on Thursday, Murtha said he is not recommending raising taxes, but stressed it should be considered.

Murtha’s comments are significant. As chairman of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, he controls the purse strings for any troop surge in Afghanistan.

Murtha wants an honest accounting of war funds, something Democrats say was not done during the George W. Bush administration. Congress has approved about $893 billion in supplemental spending to fund war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last eight years.

“If we want to put these troops in, we ought to pay for them,” Murtha said. “In my mind, you should pay for the cost whatever way. How do you do it? You can take it out of other programs or you can raise taxes.”

Murtha said he fears a similar situation to the one in the late 1970s, when in the aftermath of the Vietnam War interest rates skyrocketed to double digits.

Lawmakers did not offset the costs of the Vietnam War.

“We have the same thing here. We are not paying for the godd—n war,” Murtha said.

Emergency supplemental measures are exempt from the discretionary spending limits detailed in the congressional budget resolution.

Critics also say that supplemental bills give the White House and Congress a free hand in committing the government to substantial war costs. Obama told lawmakers earlier this year that supplemental spending is tantamount to hiding the cost of the wars.

Pentagon officials, such as Comptroller Robert Hale, said earlier this year that they want to move away from supplemental funding for the war. Hale stated that the administration’s goal is not to ask for additional money to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2010.

But if Obama endorses Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation to add tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan, the president will need to ask Congress for a significant infusion of new war funding.

Murtha said he sees no other way to pay for additional troops next year without the administration asking for extra money.

“There’s going to be a supplemental, because you can’t take $40 billion out of the heart of the defense budget,” Murtha said. “So how are you going to pay for it?”

The $40 billion refers to the oft-cited calculation of $1 billion per 1,000 troops deployed. It is yet unclear what strategic approach Obama will take in Afghanistan and how many more troops he would consider sending there.

McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has reportedly asked for as many as 80,000 more troops, but favors a compromise of 40,000 additional forces.

“If we want to put these troops in Afghanistan, we ought to pay for them,” Murtha said. “I am recommending paying for it. One of the ways is raising taxes, [and] one of them is cutting other programs.”

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Murtha, whose seat was targeted by Republicans in 2008, said that he does not see an “achievable goal” in Afghanistan.

“I do not see a strategy and how we can measure it,” he added.

Murtha has stressed for several years that all Americans should make sacrifices when the nation is at war. The former Marine, who is serving his 19th term, noted that he voted against all tax cuts during the Bush administration, and supports the reinstatement of the military draft.

Two years ago, Murtha, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) proposed a war surtax to pay for the war in Iraq. At the time, Obey calculated that the war surtax would generate between $140 billion and $150 billion annually.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she was opposed to the surtax and the reinstatement of the draft.

Earlier this month, Obey questioned the wisdom of sending more troops to Afghanistan and indicated that a White House funding request for more troops would face significant scrutiny.

“As an appropriator I must ask, what will that policy cost and how will we pay for it?” Obey said in an Oct. 8 statement.

Meanwhile, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) has expressed support for McChrystal’s recommendation on adding more troops in Afghanistan.

The Obama administration moved some predictable and recurring war costs into the base Pentagon budget proposal for 2010 and asked for $130 billion in war funds together in its spending request. The Democratic-led Congress this year included the war funding as part of the regular appropriations process. The requested war funds were considered part of the allocations that the Defense subcommittee received to craft its defense-spending bill.

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