Franken wants pay-as-you-go plan for U.S. military action

WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken will unveil legislation later this week to ensure future U.S. military interventions are paid for, rather than simply being added to the national debt as they are now.

“It’s basically saying if we go to war, it shouldn’t contribute to our debt,” Franken said of his coming bill. “We’ve spent over a trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that’s part of why we’re where we are with this deficit.”

While specific legislative language is still being finalized, Franken staffers said the measure would function as an available point of order in the Senate against anything that spends money on a war effort (broadly written to ensure that operations without a declaration of war, like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq 1, Afghanistan and Iraq II qualify). A senator would have to invoke the point of order to trigger it, but it would be upheld from the chair unless and until it was specifically overridden by the full Senate with 60 votes, the same margin needed to cut off a filibuster.

The measure would not specify how Congress would have to pay for the action — that could happen through increasing revenues or cutting spending elsewhere — but it would have to be paid for before votes on any spending could proceed.

The bill comes as Congress contemplates reaction to the president’s authorization of force in Libya, enforcing a no fly zone with a U.S.-led air assault. The mission is set to be handed over to NATO in the near future, though it’s unclear how much of a change that will represent given that the U.S. is the dominant military partner in that alliance.

Currently, money for the Libya operation is slated to be absorbed by the Pentagon’s regular budget, however some have expressed concerns that already-allocated funding won’t cover a protracted conflict.

During the George W. Bush administration, those costs were largely passed through Congress in emergency supplemental bills — off budget legislation so the funding didn’t have to be immediately reconciled with a funding source. Essentially, much of those costs were absorbed into the national debt.

While President Obama has moved war costs onto the budget, gaps between those expenditures and revenues have yet to be bridged. Furthermore, Congress has so far shown an unwillingness to pay for military operations up front.

In late 2009, Rep. Betty McCollum proposed a 1 percent surtax to pay for a 30,000-troop surge in Afghanistan. It was quickly rejected by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

At the other end of the spectrum, Rep. Michele Bachmann at the time proposed cutting spending to offset the war costs.

While a handful of lawmakers have offered spending cut plans in the hundreds of billions of dollars, no such proposals have passed the House or Senate in recent years. For that matter, nothing has been seriously offered by either party’s leadership either.

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