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Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd

October 5, 2005

Byrd Presses Administration to Budget for Cost of Wars

Senator Byrd on Wednesday offered an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2006 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill that would require the Bush Administration to level with the American people about the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The White House does not budget for these costs, in spite of the fact that troops are entrenched in those battles and that the Administration has not apparently even entertained a reduction of our forces.

Senator Byrd's amendment states that it is the sense of the Senate that the the Administration ought to budget for the costs of the war.

Senator Byrd's propsal was adopted by the Senate unanimously.

More than 2,000 years have passed since Cicero said, "Endless money forms the sinews of war." How astute he was to point that out, and how little times have changed.

Today, the United States is engaged in two wars. The first war began four years ago, when our country was attacked by 19 hijackers, sent on their deadly mission by Osama bin Laden. That war continues today in Afghanistan. That is a war that was thrust upon us, and it is the war that I support.

But there is also another war, a war which the United States began. Since March 19, 2003, our troops have been sent into the breech in Iraq, a country that had no connection to the September 11 attacks.

Together, these two wars have cost the lives of many Americans. In the first war, the one being fought in Afghanistan and elsewhere against Osama bin Laden, 243 American troops have given their lives in the line of duty. In the second war, the war in Iraq, 1,934 young men and women have perished. [Casualty numbers as of 10/5/05] I disagree with the policy that sent our troops to Iraq, but I join with all other patriotic Americans in honoring those who have paid the ultimate price in service to the United States.

In addition to lives, these wars have also cost our country a fortune in our national wealth. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Congress has already appropriated $310 billion to pay for these wars. The defense appropriations bill being debated today adds another $50 billion to that figure. Most observers believe that tens of billions more dollars will be required in a matter of months. If these estimates are accurate, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could easily exceed $400 billion by early next year. Once again, Mr. President, "Endless money forms the sinews of war."

That is simply the visible part of the cost of the war. We are slowly coming to realize that there are financial costs to the war that are buried deep within the governmentís ledgers.

In June, the Department of Veterans Affairs admitted to a major shortfall in its budget. Working with Senator Craig and Senator Murray, I drafted an amendment to add $1.5 billion in emergency funds to the veterans health care budget. My colleagues and I then worked to add $1.977 billion to the VA budget for fiscal year 2006. Why is the VA running short of funds? Part of the reason lies in the fact that the Administration did not budget enough funds to take care of troops coming home from these wars with serious injuries.

But thereís more. These injured veterans have earned compensation from the VA for their wounds. According to the Defense Department, more than 15,000 troops have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress has yet to see a full estimate of the cost of these veterans benefits.

There is also the matter of revenue that the government coffers will never see because of the deployment of our troops to these wars. Troops serving in combat zones are exempt from income taxes, and National Guardsmen and Reservists often must do without their higher civilian pay during their deployment.

No one would argue that wounded veterans should not receive compensation from the VA, or that troops in war zones ought to pay taxes while they are risking their lives for our country. But the American people are not being told about these hidden costs of these wars. Why is that?

The fact is that the Administration has never provided the Congress with a budget estimate of what the war is costing the American taxpayer. Some may argue that the budget resolution passed in the Congress by the thinnest of margins included $50 billion for the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is true. That money is in there. The $50 billion also appears in this appropriations bill.

But that estimate is just a number made out of whole cloth. The President did not request a single dime for the wars in his budget estimate submitted to Congress in February. Not one thin dime. Instead, Congress picked a number out of thin air ñ $50 billion dollars ñ and stuck it in the budget resolution. That number is not backed up by any number crunching, careful analysis, or budgetary data. It doesnít even match up with the numbers prepared by the Congressional Budget Office, which estimates that $85 billion will be required to fight these wars next year. Nor is that $50 billion paid for. This $50 billion is simply added to our national debt, a debt that will have to be paid by our children, and our childrenís children. I say one more time, Mr. President, ìEndless money forms the sinews of war.î

The Administration needs to budget for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It should not be sufficient for Congress to pick a number out of a hat, appropriate funds to match that number, and hope that our troops will be taken care of. The Administration needs to step up to the plate and tell Congress and the American people how much it expects to spend on the war, what the money will be used for, and how our nation is going to foot that bill.

To some observers, the importance of budgeting for the war may seem like a furor over how much paper should be pushed around in Washington, D.C. Although the terms used in this debate are arcane - how many people outside of the Beltway know anything of emergency supplementals, the budget process, or outlays and budget authority - the principles are vitally important to our country.

It is an important principle that a country must share the burdens of war among its citizens. Think back to World War II, and what was asked of the American people in that conflict: victory gardens, daylight savings, and gasoline rationing. We donít see anything like that today. Quite the opposite: for the first time in American history, our nation has cut taxes during a time of war.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have forced great sacrifice among those who serve in our country, and their families, as well. Our troops risk life and limb while their spouses, parents, and children pray for their safety. It is these Americans, the troops and their families, who have had so little relief from the burdens of these wars.

Last year, Congress passed a law to compensate Americans for spending up to $1,000 out their own pockets to send body armor, boots, gloves, and other equipment to troops serving overseas. But the Pentagon still has not implemented this law, giving short shrift to those who have done the most to support our troops. These families have not been recompensed for their support of the troops. Why is the Defense Department bureaucracy so slow to implement this law? It ought to be a priority to help these Americans who have done so much to help our troops.

The sacrifices demanded by the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are falling disproportionately on the few. Our troops are shedding their blood, and their families are doing so much to support them. Meanwhile, the average American goes about his day to day business with little interruption, only to pause in solemn reflection upon the occasional news report about the tragic death of another soldier from his community.

When Winston Churchill rallied his country in World War II, he urged the British to "defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets . . . ." It was a call not just to the English soldiers to fight, but for the country to share the burdens of the struggle.

What a stark contrast to the wars we are in today, in which so little is asked of the American people, compared what is demanded of our military personnel. In light of the incredible toll of these wars on our country, it is time to rethink that unfair balance of sacrifice.

Three times before, the Senate has voted to urge the Administration to budget for the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so that there may be a debate about how the President intends to spread the sacrifice fairly among all Americans. Three times the Senate has voted to urge the Administration to budget for the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and three times that call has been dismissed. The enormous cost of keeping hundreds of thousands of troops fighting in two wars, each of them half a world away, continues to be a black hole in the Presidentís budget.

Congress and the American people keep hearing the same old line: the Administration cannot budget for the cost of the wars, because the true cost is unknowable. We have heard that many times before. But it strains oneís belief to argue that the Secretary of Defense, with legions of bureaucrats and accountants at his disposal, cannot make an estimate of how much it will take to support our troops for the fiscal year that began last week. With 18,000 American troops in Afghanistan and 149,000 troops in Iraq that are risking their lives each and every day, one would think that the Pentagon could muster the courage to estimate how much money it will take to support our fighting men and women.

The amendment I offer to the defense appropriations bill again states the sense of the Senate that the President should budget for the wars. President Roosevelt did it for World War II. President Johnson did it for Vietnam. President Clinton did it for Bosnia. President Bush did it for Kosovo. Itís time to do it for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Let the American people know how much of their hard earned tax dollars will be needed for these wars. Let Congress debate how these costs must be borne. Let our government take a responsible approach to how we pay for our troops in the field. I urge my colleagues to once again support my amendment to urge the President to budget for the war.

MORE by Senator Byrd

 
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