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'Hidden Costs' Double Price Of Two Wars, Democrats Say

A New Accounting
SOURCE: | The Washington Post - November 13, 2007

"The wars will cost a lot more than the appropriated sums, and it's certainly true our children will be paying for this for a long, long time," he said. "I'm very critical of the way they have financed the war, but I always hesitate to try to quantify any of these things, to make these numerical judgments."

The committee's Democrats estimated that injuries due to the wars could add more than $30 billion in future disability and medical care costs, including billions in lost earnings for veterans who cannot work because of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Although war costs have risen each year and the fiscal 2008 funding request is the highest so far, the direct and indirect costs of Iraq and Afghanistan are much lower than the costs of World War II and are just passing those of the Vietnam War. World War II is estimated to have cost $4.9 trillion in today's dollars. According to Congressional Research Service reports, the Vietnam War cost $600 billion in today's dollars and the 1991 Persian Gulf War cost $80 billion.

The economic difference is also sizable, Hormats said, as the annual cost of today's wars is less than 2 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, a fraction of the cost of World War II. The nation's economy is so large that it "disguises the costs and doesn't impose any hardship on the American people," allowing the government to sidestep normal budgeting processes, Hormats said. He said the country has borrowed all the money it has needed for the wars because taxes have been lowered and the wars have been funded largely by supplemental appropriations, with few budgetary sacrifices.

Jason H. Campbell, a researcher at the Brookings Institution who maintains the think tank's "Iraq Index," said it is clear that the costs of the Iraq war are higher than what Congress has appropriated but said they are often hard to quantify. He said he is unsure whether the costs of both wars total $1.5 trillion.

"It's much higher than other estimations I have seen," Campbell said. "A lot of it is debatable, but there are costs that will in the near future be attributable to Iraq that haven't been accounted for yet."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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