Put the Iraq War "On Budget"

Today we mark the passing of the "do-nothing" Congress.

Within our first 100 hours, Democrats will introduce legislation on ethics reform, increasing the minimum wage, funding stem cell research, and implementing (most of) the 9/11 Commission recommendations.

But no issue is more pressing than Iraq. The voters made that clear last November, and Democrats got the message. The war must be at the top of the to-do list.

We have already spent at least $400 billion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But only about 9 percent of those funds were approved through the normal appropriations process.

The rest was passed in "Emergency Supplemental" appropriation bills not subject to budget caps or the normal congressional oversight process. These supplementals - because their numbers do not appear on the budgetary bottom line - allow the White House to pretend it is maintaining a semblance of fiscal discipline. But our deficits are already spiraling out of control and there is no way to bring the budget into balance without taking the staggering war costs into account.

The Bush Administration has claimed emergency spending is necessary because the costs of a protracted war on terror are not known. Nonsense. Both the Korean and the Vietnam Wars were almost entirely financed through the regular appropriations process - not emergency supplementals.

The White House will soon ask for over $100 billion in new emergency war spending, Adjusted for inflation, that is more than we spent in 1968, the most expensive year of the war in Vietnam. And the lion's share of that funding was done through the regular process.

There must be no more blank checks for this President, and I predict this will be the last "emergency" supplemental in the new Democrat-controlled Congress.

One of the things missing thus far from the so-called war on terror is a sense of shared sacrifice among the American people. While hyping the threat of global terrorism, the President has also gone out of his way to encourage Americans to carry on with our normal lives.

With honest budgeting practices in place, Americans and elected leaders will finally confront the real trade-offs. Money spent in Iraq can't be spent on healthcare or education--or homeland security. Bottom line: the Iraq War is even more costly than most Americans realize, and Congress must act.