WILL war in the Persian Gulf blot out America's war on illiteracy, its war on drugs, its war on environmental degradation? Liberal Democrats, eyeing the $600 million to $1 billion-per-day cost of the war against Iraq, worry that America's domestic needs will be trampled in the rush to combat.
Sen. Paul Simon (D) of Illinois says: ``If we can quickly muster 400,000 personnel and billions of dollars to face a threat 8,000 miles away, we can also muster the personnel and resources to face the threat of an inadequate education for millions of Americans.''
Others aren't so sure. Washington's budget, already running a $300 billion deficit, will plunge even deeper into red ink if the war expands. Ground combat could boost expenses to $2 billion a day.
It costs $700,000 to fire just one Patriot missile defending Riyadh or Tel Aviv. A Tomahawk missile has a price tag of $1.2 million, and the Navy has already fired over 200 of them. The loss of a single F/A-18 Navy fighter plane costs taxpayers $50 million.
Yet, at home school budgets are being trimmed, teachers are being laid off, transportation projects are being canceled.
Liberals note that the price of one F/A-18 fighter equals the annual salaries of more than 1,600 teachers. A single Tomahawk missile equals, in price, 16 new classrooms.
The funds to fight the first month of this war could match the entire $27.4 billion budget of the United States Department of Education.
America's allies promise to share this burden, but the heaviest costs in personnel, weapons, and casualties will fall on the US.
The early, smashing success of US military weapons impresses Sen. Tom Daschle (D) of South Dakota, but he says:
``I only wish ... we had the same desires to use modern weapons in health, education, and the economy to destroy the increasingly ominous threats to the American family.''
Every day, Senator Daschle says, members of Congress are taken to a secret briefing room on the fourth floor of the Capitol to get the latest results of the Gulf war. They are shown charts by admirals and generals with ``all the aura that comes with the latest news about what is happening.''
The senator asks: ``Wouldn't it be great, someday, if the same national concentration ... could be focused instead on the strength of American families? ... Can you imagine a briefing room filled with maps, charts, briefers, and the press, talking not about ... war with Iraq, but rather ... war on ignorance, on pollution, on poverty, and on health?''
Cost is no object in the war with Iraq, he says. The goal is victory. So it should be with war on ignorance and poverty in America, he says.
At a recent meeting of a new liberal group, the Coalition for Democratic Values, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts asked what kind of nation America's fighting men and women will return to after this war. Will there be jobs for them after the fighting is over?
``I reject the notion that war abroad means silence, indifference, or delay about our domestic concerns,'' he says.
Education, health care, and jobs should get top priority now, the senator says.
Mr. Kennedy says that it is time for liberals to put away the notion that America can ``throw money at our problems.'' Liberals must insist on cost-effective solutions, he says. ``The measures I favor are concerned as much about saving money as they are about spending it.''
Kennedy's examples: One dollar spent on prenatal care saves taxpayers $3 in short-term hospital costs.
One dollar spent on Head Start saves $7 in future costs for special education, public assistance, and crime.
One dollar spent on childhood immunization saves $10 in medical costs, he says.
``The question is not whether we will pay, but how and when,'' he says. A ``modest amount'' of money now can save ``far more'' later.
While Kennedy emphasizes health care, Democratic House majority leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri, in a speech over the weekend, put his prime focus on what he calls America's ``crumbling'' economy.
``What kind of country will our troops come home to?'' Mr. Gephardt asks. How much longer can the US be considered a superpower if its economy cannot keep up with other nations, he wonders.
``We cannot be a first-rate military power abroad if we are a second-rate economic power at home.''
Gephardt blames the GOP for many problems. Sounding a theme that will probably be heard throughout the 1992 presidential campaign, he says:
``Under Republican rule, our national economic policy has been deliberately designed to benefit the privileged few at the very top, while burdening the many in the middle and ignoring those stuck at the bottom.''