Obey Raises the Specter of War Tax

Rep. David Obey says he knows his war tax proposal will fail.
Rep. David Obey says he knows his war tax proposal will fail. (By Win Mcnamee -- Getty Images)
By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 19, 2007

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) hates this "misbegotten, stupid, ill-advised" Iraq war. He won't even consider President Bush's latest war funding request until next year. And he wants to tax Americans to pay for it.

The positions surprised many of his colleagues. But not House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Obey's friend for decades.

"I went to Nancy a week before we did it, and I told her: 'Nancy, I'm gonna do two things. One of them you're gonna like, and one of them you're not," Obey said. He told her he wouldn't take up Bush's funding request for Iraq until next year. "And she said: 'I like that. What won't I like?' "

She doesn't like that war tax. "We don't go forward lightly when we're talking about a tax on all the American people," Pelosi said. No problem -- Obey will introduce the tax proposal anyway on Tuesday.

That is Dave Obey: seemingly a maverick, actually a pragmatist, always explosive. Beset this spring by antiwar protesters who wanted him to use the Iraq spending bill he created to end the war, Obey showcased all three facets. Flinging open his jacket, he asked in his husky half-shout: "You see a magic wand in my pocket? . . . We ain't got the votes!"

As the battle between Congress and the White House over the federal budget reaches the boiling point, Obey is the Democrats' man in the fray. The 19-term Wisconsin social progressive is the House's most powerful voice on spending, slapping like a treed bear at all challengers -- in this case, Bush.

For months, the president has vowed to veto the 12 appropriations bills moving through Congress, in a dispute over domestic spending. "Without setting priorities, the temptation is to overspend. The job of the president is to make sure that we don't overspend and at the same time keep taxes low," Bush said Monday.

Obey views the $22 billion in extra domestic spending Democrats want as a drop in the bucket compared with the cost of the war, and a gesture toward the nation's have-nots. He calls Bush's philosophy "an obscenity."

"He is trying to distract attention from Iraq by having other fights," Obey said over hamburgers at the Democratic Club, whose faux-leather grandeur recalls the supper clubs of his home.

"We're going to have . . . tax cuts for people making a million bucks a year while we supposedly can't afford to improve education or improve veterans' health care or do some real science on climate change. It's all a political charade."

His bluster belies Obey's impulse toward compromise.

"If you want to be trusted around here and you want to be somebody people can work with, you have to make damn sure the other guy always gets something," he said. "Everyone has to have a stake in it."

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