Democrats Demand More Burden-Sharing
House bill would slap trade tariffs on imports from nations deemed not pulling their weight
WASHINGTON — BOMBS fall. Bullets fly. Now the question is: Who will pay for the expanding war in the Persian Gulf? Four of America's allies - Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait - promise to ante up $41.5 billion to defray military costs to the United States during the first quarter of 1991.
But Congress isn't satisfied.
``The president keeps talking about a `new world order,' but it looks suspiciously like the `old world order' where we pay the bills,'' says Rep. Byron Dorgan (D) of North Dakota.
``Those allies who've prospered behind the shield of a common defense must contribute their fair share,'' says Senate majority leader George Mitchell (D) of Maine. ``They're not doing it yet. It's time they did.''
House majority leader Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri says the US needs an ``acceptable formula'' to make sure ``everybody shares in this cost.'' Simply allowing each ally to pick its own level of contributions is not appropriate, he says.
War with Iraq is costing the US $600 million to $1 billion a day. That could rise to $2 billion a day in a full-scale ground war. According to various estimates, the eventual price to the US could range between $45 billion and $84 billion.
In addition, Israel may need another $13 billion in postwar aid. And the US has forgiven Egypt $6.7 billion in debts in exchange for its participation in Desert Storm.
To help out, Kuwait says it will give the US $13.5 billion; Saudi Arabia, $13.5 billion; Japan, $9 billion; Germany, $5.5 billion.
White House chief of staff John Sununu says that with this assistance, the net cost of the war to the US this year should be $15 billion. He says that it can be financed with no new taxes. Critics are doubtful, however, for they are skeptical of coalition assistance.
``There's a lot of puffing and smoking going on here, but the question is, how much money is in the bank?'' asks Congressman Dorgan.
Dorgan points to Japan as one nation in doubt. Very little cash has arrived. On Jan. 24, Tokyo announced it would give $9 billion to the multinational forces; but that still must be approved by the Japanese Diet.
Dorgan says the US needs teeth to back up its requests for help. He has introduced H. J. Resolution 92, the ``Persian Gulf War Cost-Sharing Act.'' It's the best way to make sure America's allies don't sit on the sidelines as ``cheerleaders,'' he says.
The bill would require the president to enter mandatory cost-sharing agreements with Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. Dorgan says that Japan should bear 25 percent of US military costs, Germany 15 percent, and the Saudis and Kuwaitis together, 50 percent.
But an official at the Japanese Embassy here says: ``We will not go for any kind of unilateral formula. We are giving what we feel is appropriate. $9 billion is something we decided was our appropriate share.''
Dorgan's bill would impose tariffs on imported goods from Japan or any other country that refused to sign an agreement. The tariff would be used to collect funds equal to that nation's share of the war.
Congressional insiders say Dorgan's bill probably won't fly. ``It will get 40 to 50 cosponsors, mostly junior members and `trade hawks,' '' predicts an official close to the Democratic leadership. ``It's an expression of frustration.''
But the frustration level is rising, and not just because of the war. Capitol Hill is peeved, not only with Japan, but also with Europe, as America's trade gap remains large, its debts pile up, its economy weakens, and foreign corporations buy American movie studios, hotel chains, and high-tech companies.
Three weeks ago, majority leader Gephardt and other leading Democrats aired their consternation about trade and burden-sharing in a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu.
The trade deficit between the US and Japan ``remains at unacceptably high and unsustainable levels,'' they wrote. ``Market access continues to be a priority.''
The letter also noted that Japan receives two-thirds of its oil from the Persian Gulf, yet ``Japan's participation in the multilateral effort has again been far less than might be expected. It is time to increase your country's role in the world community rather than shy away from your leadership responsibilities.''
Particularly troubling Democratic leaders in the midst of this war was Japan's resistance to opening its markets in the latest Uruguay Round of trade talks.
``Your country failed to play a leadership role,'' they said. ``In fact, your country was virtually silent or an impediment to reaching agreements....''
Gephardt notes that Japan recently announced it would maintain its current level of automobile exports to the US, thereby putting heavy pressure on US manufacturers, while at the same time opening additional auto factories here. Japanese automakers now are causing ``severe economic dislocations and job loss'' in the US, Gephardt complains.
President Bush, however, has expressed general satisfaction with contributions from allies. In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, he noted:
``Last year, our friends and allies provided the bulk of the economic costs of Desert Shield, and ... I am confident they will do no less as we move through Desert Storm.''
A skeptical Congress will be watching.