Earlier this week, Sen. Al Franken introduced the Pay for War Resolution. “Iraq and Afghanistan have cost us well over a trillion dollars,” he said in a floor speech (PDF). “And it’s been financed through debt, through borrowing from other countries and emergency supplemental spending bills. What’s more, the Iraq war was accompanied by a massive tax cut. That failed fiscal experiment created the impression that going to war requires no financial sacrifice. We know that that’s just not true. The question is, who will bear that financial sacrifice — the generation that has decided to go to war, or its children and grandchildren.”
The Pay for War Resolution isn’t particularly powerful legislation. It can be overridden by 60 senators — which is to say, the number needed to override it is essentially the same number needed to pass a bill in the first place. But it establishes the principle that war should be paid for, and if the Senate wants to violate that principle, it forces individual senators to say so explicitly.
My one qualm with Franken’s approach to this issue is that he frames it almost entirely in terms of fiscal responsibility. As I argued in my March column on this subject, the importance of paying for war — of paying, really, for anything — is that it forces you to make decisions about what is and isn’t worth doing. A price tag is information. And as economist Joseph Stiglitz says, information — and particularly information about cost — is how we make choices. The point of paying for war isn’t simply to close the deficit but to create a process in which we will make the best possible decisions about when, and when not, to go to war.
But all in all, this is a very worthwhile piece of legislation from a man who has turned out to be a very serious and thoughtful senator.