Government Spending

Blood and Treasure

Oh you masters of war, you that grow all the fruit...

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As we enter year five of the Iraq war, President Bush is demanding a second surge—not of soldiers, but of spending. Congress has been glad to oblige, seeing his $93.4 billion "emergency" request and adding an extra $21 billion, with subsidies for such military necessities as America's citrus farms ($100 million), fisheries ($60 million), and new congressional office space ($16 million).

Two years ago Bush promised this war would "support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond." Obviously, he has been true to his word. Once, to be a war profiteer, you had to be involved, however peripherally, in war-making: building weapons, supplying troops, or at the very least making money off some supposed reconstruction project. Now you can rake in the war profits from the shade of your orange grove. What better example could there be of democratization, of replacing the rule of elites with an open, more participatory system? Talk about sharing our wealth: Every Man a Halliburton!

Even ignoring all those extraneous expenses, Washington is shelling out $2 billion a week to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, with a low return in everything but body bags. In the battle of the historical parallels, Iraq as World War II vs. Iraq as Vietnam II, this is one realm where the hawks are right: Those Sunni guerrillas might not be equivalent to Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, but we're spending money like they are. ScrippsNews reports that even adjusted for inflation, "the $630 billion provided for the military this year exceeds the highest annual amounts during the Reagan-era defense buildup, the Vietnam War and the Korean War."

It also exceeds Congress' formal budget ceiling, used to estimate the deficit, which is why so many foreseeable expenses are being funded as "emergency" add-ons. "These supplemental requests don't get the same scrutiny as regular annual appropriation bills," Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) pointed out in The Boston Globe earlier this month. "In fact, for the last five years, there's been heavy pressure from the administration and the Republican majority in Congress to approve them quickly and without argument. Those who have opposed, or even questioned, any part have been accused of 'not supporting our troops.'"

In other words, the hawks have been pulling their punches. If you vote against this bill, you're not merely failing to support our soldiers. You're refusing to support the noble family farmer, the great American fisherman, the essential work of peanut storage. (Did I forget to mention the peanut storage? It's slated for $74 million in emergency war funds. Maybe that'll bring Carter around.) By limiting itself to invoking the troops, the war party is showing incredible restraint.

Indeed, supporters of the war have been attacking the additional expenditures. Bush has threatened a veto, saying Congress has "a responsibility to pass a clean bill that does not use funding for our troops as leverage to get special interest spending for their districts." But what really seems to have perturbed him isn't the possibility of pork but the chance that the legislation that reaches his desk will include timetables for a withdrawal from Iraq. It's worth noting that when a Republican Congress added its own domestic subsidies to last year's "emergency" appropriations bill, Bush never even glanced at his veto pen. If the Democrats keep the pork but stop angling to end the occupation, we may be on the road to compromise.

Perhaps someday, as emergency spending bills absorb more and more programs, our feuding leaders will put petty partisanship aside and recognize that they have both a last desperate argument for a failing war and a ticket to an unlimited welfare state. You want to end the war? they'll ask. How do you think we're paying for your prescription drugs?

Jesse Walker is Reason's managing editor.

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