Commentary

Slash Domestic Spending to Pay for Rising War Cost

By Charles V. Peña and Veronique de Rugy
This article was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 24, 2003.

Before the war, President Bush asserted that the United States “will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more.” Now, he adds: “We will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary.” In other words, $87 billion is likely to be a down payment on what will probably be a long-term and expensive mortgage. And with the administration unable to persuade allies who opposed the war to help finance the reconstruction, it looks as though American taxpayers will pay the full freight.

But if the president is going to spend an additional $87 billion (or more) in Iraq, he should make sure that this does not impose excessive costs on the American economy. This means domestic spending should be reduced by at least a similar amount, no difficult feat. In the first three years of his term, Bush has so far increased total federal outlays by a stunning 24 percent. Total nondefense discretionary spending has increased from $385 billion in fiscal year 2001 to $448 billion in fiscal year 2004. That $63 billion increase (over three years) eclipses the $33 billion President Clinton spent during his eight years in the White House.

If the president wants to toss an extra $87 billion at Iraq, he should think about cutting the $90 billion devoted to corporate welfare every year. He should also cut education spending, which has skyrocketed under his watch. Can we really justify billions going to 21st-Century Community Learning Centers or to vocational and adult education? The work of many government employees, among them NASA workers and air traffic controllers, can be privatized, along with federal assets such as land, mineral stockpiles and buildings. The National Endowments for the Humanities and for the Arts should be terminated. The federal government should also sell its defective business operations, including the Postal Service, Amtrak and electric utilities.

Cutting billions of dollars earmarked for international assistance programs such as Bush’s latest AIDS initiative in Africa would also be a step in the right direction.

The bottom line: There are obviously plenty of ways to find money for Iraq and spare the taxpayer. The expansion of huge pork-barrel domestic spending will cripple our ability to fight the real war on terrorism and endanger our economy.

Charles V. Peña is director of defense policy studies and Veronique de Rugy is fiscal policy analyst at the Cato Institute.