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Top Democrat warns Afghanistan will bankrupt domestic programs, threatens war surtax if Obama sends more troops

November 23, 2009 |  8:06 am

Wisconsin Democrat Dave Obey

David Obey came to Congress in 1969, a young Democratic congressman from Wisconsin, opposed to the Vietnam War and mindful of the funding it was draining from Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs.

Thirty years later, he is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and adamant that Afghanistan is a similar quagmire that could bankrupt President Obama's domestic agenda.

"There ain't going to be no money for nothing if we pour it all into Afghanistan," House Appropriations Chairman David Obey told ABC News. "If they ask for an increased troop commitment in Afghanistan, I am going to ask them to pay for it."

Comparing Afghanistan to Vietnam, Obey said that both were long-standing civil wars and that, in each case, the United States found itself with an unreliable partner on the ground.

"On the merits, I think it is a mistake to deepen our involvement," Obey said. "But if we are going to do that, then at least we ought to pay for it. Because if we don't, if we don't pay for it, the cost of the Afghan war will wipe out every initiative we have to rebuild our own economy."

"If we have to pay for the healthcare bill, we should pay for the war as well," Obey said, "by having a war surtax."

Obey's comments come just as Washington is starting to acknowledge the huge debt laid at its doorstep by recent programs -- including the massive drug-prescription bill and Iraq war costs enacted under the Bush administration as well as the healthcare overhaul and stimulus plans ginned up under Obama.

The current national debt is $12 trillion, and the White House estimates that, by 2019, interest from the debt will top $700 billion a year. As one analyst, Pimco's William Gross, told the New York Times, “What a good country or a good squirrel should be doing is stashing away nuts for the winter. The United States is not only not saving nuts, it’s eating the ones left over from the last winter.”

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: David Obey. Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

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