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US War on Terror Could Cost $2.4 Trillion by 2017

Economic advisors to Congress warn the cost of U.S.-led war on terror could exceed $2 trillion over the next 10 years. Much of that funding comes from money borrowed overseas, and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says it would be best to start paying for the war now and not let the debt grow. From Washington, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

The Congressional Budget Office says the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other war on terror-related expenses have reached more than $600 billion since September 2001.

More than $450 billion of that has been spent on the U.S.-led war in Iraq. President Bush has now asked for an additional $160 billion for Iraq for fiscal 2008.

Angry congressional Democrats say that far exceeds President Bush's original estimate of $50 billion for the entire Iraq operation.

"The truth is that this administration from its original $50 billion estimate on the cost of the war in Iraq right through the estimates being made outside this committee today, consistently low-balls, misstates to the American people the true cost of the dollars, and of course, the true cost in blood that we are paying for this go-it-alone misadventure," said Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas.

Peter Orszag, the head of the Congressional Budget Office, which advises Congress on such matters, presented lawmakers two different scenarios for projected future funding of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other costs associated with the war on terror.

The calculations were based on scenarios where the United States would significantly reduce its troop levels by 2010 and 2013 to between 30,000 and 75,000 forces in Iraq and Afghanistan from current levels of about 200,000.

"Including both past funding and projected funding under these two illustrative scenarios, total spending for U.S. operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest of the war on terrorism would thus amount to between $1.2 trillion and $1.7 trillion through 2017," Orszag said.

Much of these outlays are financed through borrowing, adding on billions of dollars in interest charges. Orszag warns that continued borrowing will have a steep price tag.

"The bottom line is that to the extent the spending is not offset by higher taxes or reduced spending elsewhere in the budget, and therefore simply adds to the deficit, the total budgetary impact of the war, including spending to date, possible future spending, and higher interest costs would amount to between 1.7 trillion and 2.4 trillion dollars through 2017," he said.

This angered Democrat Dennis Moore of Kansas who asked Orszag if the Bush administration has mortgaged America's future.

"We have mortgaged the future of our children and grandchildren, is that correct," asked Moore.

"The way I would put it is that we are on an unsustainable fiscal path and something has to give," said Orszag.

Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, one of the few Republican lawmakers who attended the hearing, dismissed such thinking.

"We are fighting this war with a lot less cost and a lot less sacrifice than we have ever fought wars before as a percentage of our ability to pay for it," he said.

Congressional Democrats criticized the Bush administration for failing to send a representative to testify before the committee. Wednesday's hearing was heavily dominated by Democrats and only a few Republicans turned up.

At the White House, spokeswoman Dana Perino dismissed the Congressional Budget Office's $2.4 trillion estimate as "wildly premature," and defended spending on the global war on terror as an investment in America's security.

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