President Bush has recently moved to reinforce fiscal conservative principles by threatening to veto the bipartisan legislation to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program, which extends to millions of needy children the protection of healthcare they currently do not have.

A broad bipartisan coalition of senators and House members has just agreed in conference committee on a bill that increased funding of this needed extension of healthcare insurance. The argument may come down to a $5 billion gap between the bipartisan congressional funding and the administration's position.

Yet even over such a relatively modest amount, President Bush is digging in on holding down further deficit spending on this legislation. But his sudden commitment to fiscal conservatism holds a special irony just as Gen. David Petraeus has been his emissary for prolonging America's commitment to fighting the war in Iraq. 

While President Bush's fiscal conservative principles seem to be offended by an additional $5 billion for healthcare for children, he still refuses to ask Americans to pay a special surtax on their income tax rates to pay for the Iraq war.

Estimates of the costs of the war vary. A recent estimate, including all indirect costs, is $780 million a day, or nearly $400 billion a year, on Iraq.

President Bush, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and many others believe winning the Iraq war, or at least keeping substantial American kids at risk there to avoid losing it, is fundamentally necessary in the war against terror.

Then why are they not willing to ask all Americans to feel the sacrifice and pay for the war — with a special income tax surcharge? Lyndon Johnson did so to help pay for Vietnam.

It would be a good test of President Bush's commitment to the war — and his newfound fiscal pay-as-you-go conservatism — to ask all Americans to sacrifice and pay a special surtax to pay for the war — retroactively and going forward. And then see what happens, even among pro-war Republicans.

Maybe this would be the best way for the president to test whether the American people truly believes this war is worth fighting. It's bad enough that the kids doing the fighting and dying are volunteers and don't reflect a broad demographic and economic cross-section of the country. At the very least, all Americans — using the income tax system — should be asked to pay for the war, with the wealthier paying more than the poor (as is the case with the progressive income tax system).

At least President Bush would show his sincerity in asking all Americans to put their money where his war policies are — and back him up with their paychecks.

I suspect this could be the most honest test of whether the American people believe this war is worth fighting.

And I also suspect that the response to a call by President Bush for a war tax will be a resounding no — from left to right.

That should tell President Bush a lot: It should cause him, for one, to reflect on whether it is fair to make our children and grandchildren pay for today's borrowed money, much of it from foreign lenders, to finance this war. And it should reveal whether the ultimate lesson of America's failure in Vietnam will be demonstrated by the resistance of most Americans to pay for the Iraq war. You can't expect to wage a war when the American people don't support it — and aren't willing to pay for it out of their current paychecks.