War cost in Afghanistan, Iraq could go to $2.4 trillion in next decade

WASHINGTON | The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could total $2.4 trillion in the next decade, according to a nonpartisan budget analysis issued Wednesday.

The White House dismissed the figures from the Congressional Budget Office as hypothetical.

“We are on an unsustainable fiscal path, and something has to give,” CBO director Peter Orszag said in presenting the estimates to the House Budget Committee at the request of its chairman, Rep. John Spratt, a South Carolina Democrat.

Spratt said he wants to highlight the cost of the wars, particularly the one in Iraq, so the public and policymakers will understand the tradeoffs.

“The $2.4 trillion estimate is half of what it would take to keep Social Security solvent for 75 years. People can relate to that,” he said in an interview.

The budget office analysts looked at two war scenarios to calculate a cost beyond the $600 billion already spent, including $450 billion in Iraq alone. Including requested appropriations for fiscal 2008, the total cost is about $800 billion.

One scenario involved a troop withdrawal from 200,000 in 2008 to 30,000 in 2010, remaining at that level through 2017. That would cost an additional $570 billion, Orszag said.

The other scenario calculated the cost of leaving 75,000 troops in from 2013 to 2017 at $859 billion over spending through 2008.

For the first time, the Congressional Budget Office also included interest in its calculations, because the wars have essentially been paid for with federal borrowing. Interest payments on spending so far would total $415 billion. Under the first scenario, there would be an additional $175 billion in interest payments, and under the second scenario, $290 billion in debt service would be added.

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the ranking Republican on the committee, said the estimates fail to show that as a percentage of gross domestic product, the nation is better equipped to pay for these conflicts than previous wars.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat, said the numbers were “mind-boggling” and referred to the war as the White House’s “go-along misadventure.”

The Bush administration has declined to make long-term projections because “the war is ever-changing” and costs are difficult to predict, said Sean Kevelighan, press secretary for the White House budget office.

“Congress got a predictable answer to its leading question, which was clearly intended to artificially inflate war costs (by) politicians in Washington trying to manage our military commanders,” Kevelighan said.

“Budgets follow military decisions, not vice versa,” he said.

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