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Obama's Afghanistan war plan: How will he pay for it?

It will cost an additional $30 billion a year. Some antiwar Democrats in Congress talk of a 'war tax,' but the most likely option to fund Obama's Afghanistan war plan is to keep borrowing.

By Staff writer / December 2, 2009

US soldiers patrol through the heart of Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday. Each troop costs $1.1 million per year, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Musadeq Sadeq/AP

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Washington

President Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan may succeed. It may fail. But one thing is sure: It will cost $30 billion a year that at the moment the Pentagon doesn’t have.

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As of now, Congress appears poised to just borrow the cash to pay for the deployment of 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, adding to the federal deficit. That’s in contrast to healthcare reform, which lawmakers are struggling to pay for with tax increases and budget cuts.

This shows that years of special supplemental appropriations to pay for the Iraq and Afghan wars have made it too easy for lawmakers to avoid making tough fiscal choices on defense, say some deficit hawks.

“Deeming a particular initiative as vital to the national interest should not exempt it from being paid for,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

No payment plan spelled out

In his speech Tuesday night, Mr. Obama himself noted that the cost of his Afghan troop increase would run about $30 billion a year.

“I’ll work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit,” said Obama.

But the president gave no specifics as to what addressing those costs might mean.

It is probably too late for Congress to consider the extra Afghan expenses this year. Lawmakers are close to final approval of the Department of Defense spending bill for fiscal year 2010, which already includes $130 billion for next year’s Afghanistan and Iraqi operations.

That means the most likely option is for the House and Senate to take up a $30 billion supplemental appropriation for Afghanistan sometime after they return from their holiday break. During the Bush administration, annual costs of the Iraqi and Afghan conflicts largely were funded via such supplementals.

From the left, a push for a war tax

Some liberal Democrats who oppose Obama’s new war strategy have vowed to try to enact a war tax to pay for at least part of this extra cost.

Otherwise, the longer-term costs of continuing conflict in the Afghanistan region could “devour virtually any other priorities that the president or anyone in Congress [has],” said Rep. David Obey (D) of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and a war-tax supporter.