“This will be the last supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in April. “The process by which this has been funded in the past … will change, and this will be the last time.”
The supplemental war-spending bill for Mr. Obama’s new Afghanistan offensive is expected to go before lawmakers early next year and spark heated debate over the war strategy and its cost.
Spending bills traditionally bring war debates to the fore in Congress. In recent years, Democrats used them to challenge Mr. Bush’s war policy for Iraq with failed attempts to cut off funds or impose timetables to wind down the U.S. engagement.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress has approved roughly $944 billion for military operations - virtually all of that for Iraq and Afghanistan - with Iraq getting about 72 percent of the money. At the peak of the troop surge in Iraq in 2008, the wars cost $180 billion.
The cost has since declined, with Mr. Obama requesting about $130 billion for 2010 to fight both wars. Congress is still debating the final 2010 defense spending bill, which is the first time the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were included in the regular appropriations bills.
“Unfortunately over the last eight years, we’ve been funding these military operations by deficit spending and we can’t keep doing that, not only in military operations but also in every other program,” said Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat. “We’ve got to be concerned.”
Neither Mr. Reed nor other Democrats suggested an alternative to more borrowing or offered to sacrifice items on Mr. Obama’s domestic agenda to help pay for the war.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, one of the Democrats threatening to oppose raising the debt ceiling, said she would not consider forgoing a health care overhaul in favor of war spending.
“I don’t believe that is a choice,” she said, adding that the U.S. cannot afford to lose in Afghanistan.
Even a Democratic plan for a new surtax focused primarily on wealthy Americans to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - backed by House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat - must be balanced against the potential impact on the fragile economy.
“Everything is complicated by the economic crisis,” Mr. Hoyer said, adding that he usually opposes deficit spending but is withholding support of a war tax.
Republicans say that the war tax is dead on arrival and that defense is the one of the few emergencies that justify going further into debt.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, earlier championed the war tax idea but has since backed away. “I just don’t see any tax increase working in the middle of a recession,” he said.