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Fiscal scorecard: War on Terror vs. Health Care reform

by Ryan Jaroncyk, published

The actual price tag of the War on Terror is much higher than commonly believed, while the estimated price tag of the health care reform bill is likely far too low based on historical precedent.  Republicans and Democrats don't like to admit as much, but history and hard data prove otherwise.

The 9-year War on Terror has actually cost about $1.5 trillion:  $1.1 trillion for the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, and roughly $400 billion for the new Homeland Security federal agency.  By the 10-year mark, the War on Terror will likely rise to over $1.7 trillion, when incorporating estimated FY 2011 funding for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Homeland Security. 

And these do not reflect all the costs associated with the War on Terror either.  Over 5,000 U.S. soldiers have died, over 30,000 have been maimed for life, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is prevalent in active and retired soldiers, the military is plagued by a record suicide rate, and unfunded liabilities for treating scores of war veterans are already surpassing original expectations.

In additon, while there has not been another 9/11 magnitude strike on U.S. soil, top security and intelligence officials claim that the number of terrorist threats against America has actually been increasing, despite spending more money and inserting more troops.

Finally, while there is no debate over the fact that America has every right to a robust self-defense, there are legitimate constitutional issues regarding the War on Terror.  In particular, despite operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, the U.S.Congress has not officially declared war or issued Letters of Marque and Reprisal, as stipulated in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.  Back in World War II, the U.S. issued six different Declarations of War.

On the health care reform bill front, the CBO's recent addition put the estimated cost at $1.055 trillion over ten years.  If this estimate were to hold true, this would be approximately $600 billion cheaper than the War on Terror over a ten year period.  But, as history has aptly demonstrated with the actual costs of Medicare and Medicaid, the cost of federal health care reform will likely blow past this estimate, unless the bill is repealed in its entirety or in part.  The bill's constitutionality is also questionable, as the "general welfare" and "interstate commerce" defenses are already being challenged in federal court by a number of disgruntled States.

Democrats and other left-leaning proponents may choose to strictly focus on the estimated cost of the federal health care reform bill and proclaim fiscal victory, but they should also be aware that President Obama and a Democratic-controlled Congress (until January) have actually escalated the War on Terror and further boosted military spending to fund its expanding operations.  On the other hand, Republicans and other right-leaning proponents may choose to focus on the actual costs of Medicare and Medicaid as a more accurate indicator of federal health care reform's future price tag, but they should also be aware that the War on Terror has proven to be a budget buster with no end in sight.

In the end, whether it's war or health care, America is falling deeper and deeper into debt.  Both sides are borrowing from China and relying on the Federal Reserve to print money in order to fund their budgetary demands.  But, unless both sides stand down and resolve to reform health care and national defense in a more fiscally conservative manner, we may be facing an even worse economic crisis in the not-too-distant future.

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