Are the Deficits Caused by Wars “Not Paid For?”

On October 1, the first day of the 2011 fiscal year, Democrats adjourned Congress without passing a budget for 2011, and without holding any votes on the soon-to-expire Bush tax cuts.   Thus, taxes, spending and deficits have become central issues in the Congressional campaign.

In their desperation Democrats and their media cheer-leaders have revived a campaign theme from the Obama presidential campaign.  The government is running gargantuan deficits, the story goes, because President Bush started wars but didn’t “pay for” them.

To help us debunk this claim, the Congressional Research Service, (CRS) the think tank that works exclusively for Congress, brings some perspective to the issue with a new, comprehensive report on the costs of three, on-going military operations that Bush initiated in response to the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks:

  • Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Afghanistan and other counter terror operations
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the invasion and subsequent operations over past seven years
  • Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases

CRS found war costs in the Defense Department budget, and in portions of several other department budgets, and added them all together for their report.

As of the end of fiscal 2011 the combined cost of all three operations will be $1.292 Trillion, over ten fiscal years, 2002 through 2011. (The 9/11 attack was 2 weeks before the end of the 2001 fiscal year.)

The implied assumption that there is a mechanism by which a military operation can be “paid for” separately from the rest of government is of course, hokum.  Government accounting does not report some bills paid with tax revenue and others paid with borrowed money.  Obviously, any attempt to at such reporting would set off heated political debate.   In reality, all tax revenue and all borrowed money goes into one pot, and all expenses are paid out of the same pot.

The chart further demonstrates the Democrats’ deception.

  • During the Bush years deficits were 2.7 times more than war costs.
  • Obama’s first two deficits total almost nine times more than war costs.
  • If there were no war at all Obama’s first two deficits would still total $2.4 trillion, the largest in U.S. history, after adjusting for inflation.

The Obama government spends 23% of GDP, excluding the cost of the wars.

To put that in perspective consider the Vietnam era, when three to four times as many troops were deployed.  Back then total government spending, including the cost of the war, equaled 19% of GDP.

Consider World War II when ten times as many troops were deployed.  After adjusting for inflation Obama’s deficits, excluding war expenses, are 2.3 times as much as World War II deficits, including war costs.

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