WASHINGTON -- Ahead of a Senate committee vote to authorize military force against Islamic State militants, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) is readying an amendment to require Congress to fully offset the costs of war.
"We cannot write another blank check for war, as was unfortunately the case under previous presidents and previous congresses for previous conflicts,” Coons said in a statement this week. "It is the duty of the Congress, as we debate the scope and strategy for this conflict, to also look squarely at its cost and how to pay for it," he added.
The U.S. has already spent more than $1 billion since it began launching airstrikes against the Islamic State four months ago. It's unclear how long the U.S. military effort will go on, but top administration officials have said it could stretch into years.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to vote Thursday on a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to put parameters on that military campaign. President Barack Obama has said he doesn't need new authorization to launch strikes in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State, citing past AUMFs from 2001 and 2002 as his legal authority. But some in Congress disagree.
Coons' amendment to the proposed AUMF calls for cutting government spending or raising new revenues to offset all of the costs of the military campaign. (Read the measure here.)
The senator said Americans should not expect the "only people to sacrifice" will be the troops and their families. "Expressly having a conversation about how to offset the cost of this war -- through a reduction in spending or an increase in revenue, or both -- will help Americans have a more direction connection to the conflict and an awareness of its impact, not just in terms of our spending, but our steadily growing national debt," he said.
There has been no substantive debate in Congress about the costs of the war against the Islamic State, which is mainly because there has been no debate about authorizing the war itself. The Senate committee's 11th-hour vote on an AUMF is an effort to force some kind of discussion before lawmakers adjourn for the year. No major action on war authorization will happen until next year.
Former Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), who chaired the House Appropriations Committee when the U.S. was fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, used to regularly force debates on war costs with his "war surtax" bill. Under his proposed Share the Sacrifice Act, people who earned more than $30,000 a year would have to pay 1 percent on top of their tax liability.
Obey's proposal never went anywhere, though.