One of the rather obvious points raised by opponents of health reform is that it will cost too much. Moreover, that tends to turn into an “us” versus “them” issue, wherein the “us” sees itself facing increased costs–either paying new taxes or seeing insurance premiums increase–in order to pay for the coverage newly extended to “them.” Now, there are plenty of CBO, OMB, and other analyses that explore the likelihood of this happening, and most find that costs will stay about the same or even decrease for many Americans at the same time that coverage gets better. But budget projections are just that, so I don’t want to dismiss this concern. I do want to underscore a point made recently by Princeton economics professor Uwe Reinhardt, however.
First of all, this issue of health reform costs is only an issue because the Obama administration has committed to paying for it. The same can’t be said for the Bush administration’s financing of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those efforts were funded entirely through deficit spending using special appropriations, and as Prof. Reinhardt writes, Bush chose not “even to include the financial cost of these wars in the formal federal budgets.” Oh yeah, and he cut taxes for the wealthy at the same time. You know, if you just borrow the money from a friend who never expects to be repaid and make the transaction off-the-record, your wife may wonder where that new car came from for Christmas, but she won’t feel any of the expense. Heckuva job, Bushie.
So, here’s an idea: Let’s start actually paying for the wars. Both of them. Put the costs on the books, but more than that, pledge to pay for them. How? Why not impose a war tax? As soon as people were actually feeling some effects of these military efforts, my guess is they’d stop supporting them–or ignoring them–in a hurry. What’s more, they’d gain a new appreciation for the relative cost of reforming the health care system compared to fighting two wars that have raged on for years. Maybe then $900 Billion wouldn’t seem like such a big deal. Maybe then we’d be able to get this country back on track. Of course, if you’re willing to pay the war tax, just raise your hand. I didn’t think so.