The conventional wisdom is that the cost of the war is crowding domestic problems from Washington's agenda. Not so.

The problem is the willingness of George Bush and Congress to fight a war without raising the revenue to pay for it.The responsible way to finance the war is a war tax coupled, whatever the political discomfort, with a drastic cut in the still bloated military budget.

Estimates vary, but if the war stops by June the cost may well be at least $45 billion.

The total military costs, including the replacement of inventory, could double that figure.

Add the price of aid and forgiving our gulf allies' debt, the postwar cleanup and the burden of maintaining a military presence in the Middle East, and we are into big money.

Even if promised aid from other nations comes through, the addition to the high U.S. debt will be substantial.

The generation fighting the war has lost ground because of eroding U.S. economic strength: In the past decade the real income of men aged 18 to 34 dropped 10 percent.

Since debt is financing the war, they will also be required to pay part of the bill.

It is patently foolish to finance the war on credit and then use the higher deficit as grounds for not making the education, infrastructure and other investments needed to compete in the global economy.

Federal budget policy inverts the common-sense principle that current expenses should be paid for out of current income, with borrowing used for capital spending that produces income to pay off the new debt.

Since most troops in the gulf are young and in the working class, a war tax should be tilted toward the older and richer. A 38 percent bracket for the top-income group would bring in some $60 billion over the next three years - enough to pay the out-of-pocket expenses of a six-month war and some of its immediate aftermath.

Critics would oppose a tax increase in a recession, but it could not be imposed before the new fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1 - well after the expected recovery.

The economy's primary problem is not a temporary recession but slow growth stemming from a lack of investment. Ending the need to finance the war with credit would free the government's borrowing capacity for an investment program, which would help counter a longer downturn and is needed, recession or not.

The other source of money is the nearly $290 billion military budget, of which more than $130 billion is devoted to Western Europe's defense. Since the likelihood of a Warsaw Pact attack is zero, we can cut this budget and give Western Europe responsibility for whatever defensive forces it needs.

We are told that cutting the military budget for Europe is impossible because it would require revising the budget agreement.

Neither Bush nor Congress is said to have the stomach for the disruption of another bitter debate. But can't they find the small amount of political courage required for transferring funds from one military purpose to another?

After all, since troops and equipment have moved from Western Europe to the Persian Gulf, can't the budget easily follow?

We're also told that raising taxes, even for the war, could be politically risky.

Come now. Can politicians who have not shrunk from disrupting the lives of a half million Americans really find this political burden too wearisome and dangerous?

Better to support the troops with yellow ribbons and weightless rhetoric: No heavy lifting for the boys and girls in Washington's trenches.

Bush and most members of Congress are basking in the reflected glory of the young people sent to the gulf.

The least they can do is finance the war properly so that those who return have a more secure place in whatever new world order they are risking their lives to create.