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BARNEY FRANK

Paying for the war in Iraq

THE BEST ARGUMENT for refusing President Bush's request that we put America $87 billion deeper in debt to pay for the mistakes he has made in Iraq comes from a very good source -- George W. Bush.

In objecting to the pay increase voted for federal employees, the president said that paying for it would require reductions in other domestic programs -- e.g., environmental cleanup, aid to education, community development block grants, and transportation. After 2 1/2 years of making light of the more than $1.5 trillion that its budgets will add to the federal debt during his term, the administration has rediscovered the importance of controlling deficits and argues that additional federal expenditure on some items must come at the expense of others. So, if we do as the president asks and appropriate $87 billion for Iraq, it will force reductions in other areas of federal spending that have already been cut below the barest minimum.

But while it would be a dereliction of my duty to my constituents simply to ratify the president's proposal, neither would it be responsible to reject it categorically. I cast the right vote when I opposed the president's decision to go to war in Iraq. None of the major reasons advanced at the time for this effort has been vindicated by events. Indeed, since the war in Iraq, our role as a force for stability has deteriorated in virtually every trouble spot. Syria, the Palestinians, North Korea, Iran -- where there has been a change in America's ability to work for a reduction in violence, tension, and instability, it has been for the worse.

But while the war was unwise, it was also a fact, and it imposes on Americans responsibilities that we cannot escape. Elections have consequences, even when they are decided as dubiously as our last presidential contest.

However, recognizing that we have both moral and practical obligations in this regard does not mean rubber-stamping the Bush administration's request. There are three ways in which Congress should modify the proposal.

First, while it is important that we provide funding for the military to pay for this war, we should not vote for every dollar requested. The president is justifiably seeking funds to replace the weapons and ammunition consumed in the war in Iraq and in the expensive occupation of that country. But some of that ought to come from a redirection of the tens of billions the Pentagon is still spending on unneeded weapons that were conceived for the Cold War era. Nuclear attack submarines, defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles, and other weapons were justified by the need to confront a Soviet superpower. As one conservative commentator recently noted, the administration's request for $65 billion for the Pentagon is aimed at preserving the current weapons procurement policy, which includes a substantial amount for Cold War armaments rather than the military capability we need for the current world situation.

Second, the proposals to engage in social spending in Iraq include several billion dollars which may be desirable but do not rise to the level of necessity -- especially if it must come at the expense of equally important social spending in the United States and in desperately poor other nations in the world.

But wise reductions in both categories will still leave us with a large amount to spend, especially given the ineptitude of the administration's efforts to get others to share the burden.

Here the congressional response should be clear. None of this money should be added to the national debt, nor should it be allowed to exacerbate the severe problems that already result from inadequate funding in so many domestic programs. It is well past time for Congress to repudiate the Bush doctrine that you can pay for two wars with three tax cuts.

Further expenditures for the aftermath of the Iraq war must be funded by undoing the Bush tax cuts on incomes of $200,000 and above. I will not vote for any additional appropriation to pay for the war in Iraq unless it is completely financed by changes in the tax code that will undo some of the tax reduction now being enjoyed -- and scheduled to be enjoyed further -- by the richest 2 percent of Americans.

We should be undoing tax cuts to produce far more than $87 billion. Even before the $87 billion request, the Bush policies were slated to add $1 trillion to the national debt in fiscal years 2003 and 2004 alone. But at the very least, the president ought to be willing to join us in paying for the consequences of his policy in Iraq by cutting back on the excesses of his fiscally irresponsible and socially inequitable tax reductions.

I will vote to meet America's obligations in Iraq even though I thought we were wrong to incur them. But I will not do so at the expense of important domestic social and economic needs. Forcing Congress -- and America -- to make such a choice will be damaging and divisive, and President Bush should stop insisting that we do.

Barney Frank represents the Massachusetts Fourth District in Congress.

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