Each American taxpayer’s share of the cost of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan would be calculated and posted on the U.S. Defense Department’s website, under an amendment to the 2013 defense authorization act passed May 17 by the House on a voice vote.
The amendment was sponsored by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., an opponent of big defense spending who for many years has tried, without success, to give taxpayers a choice of having their tax dollars spent on domestic programs instead of on the military.
Lewis’ view on defense spending hasn’t changed, but he said his proposal is about “truth and transparency.”
“Even if you don’t oppose war, don’t you want to know its costs?” he said.
The fate of his proposal will depend on whether the Senate goes along with the idea.
The Lewis plan requires the Defense Department, IRS and the U.S. Commerce Department to jointly calculate the cost to each taxpayer of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, including legacy costs.
The total cost, without adding future expenses, is about $1.3 trillion so far in Defense Department contingency funds, including about $803.6 billion for operations in Iraq and $530 billion in Afghanistan. However, some estimates of the war costs are far higher, including money in the regular defense budget also supporting the costs of war. Last year, for example, Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies calculated the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars at $3.7 trillion, a higher number derived, in part, by also calculating the long-range cost of disability pay and health care benefits for veterans.
There are about 160 million U.S. taxpayers.
Lewis’ amendment does not set a timetable for how long it might take before the per-taxpayer cost of war is calculated and posted on the Defense Department’s website.