Each day of war in the Persian Gulf costs between $600 million and $1 billion. The final price may be $100 billion - perhaps even more if the conflict turns out to be prolonged. How is this to be paid?
The Bush administration reportedly has decided against seeking a tax increase to help pay for the fighting. First, it would probably cause significant political outcry. Second, the tax could be a rallying point for anti-war efforts and a way to re-argue a decision that already has been made. In any case, the fact that the 1992 budget message scheduled to be presented Feb. 4 will not include any war tax is probably a relief for Congress as well as taxpayers.Just last fall, the president and Congress engaged in a bitter taxation and budget fight that nearly shut down the federal government. The final agreement was scarcely of any value, but neither side wants to reopen the struggle with a complicated argument over war taxes.
As a result, this marks the first time in recent memory that the government has not raised taxes to finance a war. Yet such inaction is not a satisfactory answer, either. It means the United States might have to borrow more money to wage war. This would balloon the already massive budget deficit.
One alternative already being pushed by President Bush - and is sure to be vigorously encouraged by Congress - is to get U.S. allies in the war to pick up more of the tab. This includes not only the oil-rich Arab states, but others as well, particularly Japan and Germany.
This is only fair, particularly since Japan and Germany and many others depend heavily on Middle East oil. Yet support has been minimal. Great Britain, which has been a vigorous and dependable U.S. partner in the aerial campaign against Iraq, has pointedly reminded its European Economic Community partners that they should be doing more.
There are constitutional limits on what Germany and Japan can do in a direct military way - limits written into those constitutions by victorious allies after World War II. But certainly, there are no restraints in financial support.
Germany, the richest of the European nations, has sent 18 older jets to help defend Turkey, if necessary; five minesweepers to the Mediterranean and contributed $1.2 billion toward allied costs of fighting the war. Belgium has been accused of refusing to deliver ammunition to British forces.
Japan also temporarily sent a few medical people, but they did not stay long. The Japanese also have pledged at least $9 billion for the military effort plus funds to help such nations as Egypt, Turkey and Jordan that have suffered economically because of the oil embargo and the fighting.
But the United States should not have to do most of the fighting, see its budget deficits spin even further out of control and be forced to go begging with a tin cup for additional financial support.
This is not just a U.S. war; Japan, Germany and the others are having their interests defended as well. The least they can do is pick up more of the cost while Americans are faced with most of the fighting and dying.