Today is the first Budget Committee hearing since yesterday's release of the President's federal budget proposal for fiscal year 2008. The hearing correctly focuses on a very important issue facing the U.S. Senate and our nation: the Iraq War and its costs.
This war has great human costs, as we see and hear each day from reports overseas. This is a war that has cost us terribly in American blood. As of today, we have lost some 3,100 brave American soldiers, 23,000 more have been wounded and tens of thousands will come home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
The human costs are also felt hear at home. First, returning personnel, our veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan war, have very real needs. Let me say here, as I have said before, that our veterans must receive adequate funding for their growing medical care and other needs.
Second, without doubt, the war has consumed, and is consuming, vast sums of money. And these enormous budgetary costs are felt by the people of our county. Unfortunately, the President's budget, at best, represents an optimistic view of the true costs of war. His budget ignores some very real and tremendous amounts of money necessary not only to provide our troops what they would need for the so called surge, but also what they will need when they return home.Budget Numbers:
First, let me repeat and reemphasize some of the numbers stated here today, rounded off a bit to keep things simple. The President has asked for $481 billion for the Pentagon. This is just more than half of the entire discretionary budget of the United States for the coming fiscal year. But this ignores all the money we spend on nuclear weapons, including cleaning up all of the old bomb factories and maintaining the nuclear weapons arsenal, which is about $14 billion.
Even more important the number excludes all of the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The President is asking for an additional $142 billion for the next fiscal year. This is in addition to the $93 billion in Supplemental Funding for this fiscal year. If you add it all up, the President has presented a request, a request we received just this month, for $730 billion for the military, including Iraq.
These costs for the military do not come without real effects, real problems for the American people. We should also remember that the budget for our veterans and the costs of homeland security count in the budget as "domestic" spending. And our domestic spending is simply being squeezed thin.President's Budget Means Domestic Cuts:
We have seen proposed cuts by the President. Many, many programs are on the chopping block. Just three quick examples: - the President's budget eliminate a vital food program for women with newborn children and for seniors, including many who happen to be veterans - the Commodity Supplemental Food Program at $108 million. - a $100 million cut for Head Start, at a time when only about one-half of the children eligible for this program actually participate due to a lack of funding. - at $8.9 million, the complete elimination of the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Program even though this is obviously a need that has become even more important with the ongoing war in Iraq.Iraq Costs Per Hour or Week:
By the way, there have been some rough calculations about the relative costs of the Iraq war on a yearly basis, and how much we spend every day or each hour on the war. As an illustration, our nation spends about $2 billion a week, or about $11 million an hour.
So, for example, just: - ten hours in Iraq would pay for the entire Commodity Supplemental Food Program - Providing the additional funds to fully fund Head Start, for those who are eligible, for one year would be roughly $7.2 billion, a large figure, but only about four weeks in Iraq. - Providing the necessary funds to insure the 9 million children in this nation that would cost about $15 billion a year, or easily less than two months in Iraq.
So these examples illustrate some real trade offs. Based on the President's budget request, we see some tough and painful cuts in vital needs for our country.
However, I believe the President is, at best optimistic. The pain felt by the American people will be worse because the numbers are simply worse.