Over the past few months, a number of editorials have warned of the high potential cost of a war with Iraq. Many have spoken of the loss of American and Iraqi life, or of the destabilization of the Middle East, or of the increase in anti-American sentiment abroad. All of these issues are indeed troubling and should be weighed heavily as our nation contemplates war. Yet often lost in this debate is the heavy cost that a war with Iraq will have here at home.
According to recent estimates, the price tag of a war with Iraq will range anywhere from $100 billion to $1 trillion, depending on the length of combat and the extent of postwar occupation and rebuilding. With few nations likely to share this cost, a sluggish U.S. economy, and President Bush’s call for increased tax cuts, where is this money going to come from? The answer is likely to be from cuts to domestic programs, including health care, medical research and environmental protection.
One of the hardest-hit programs may be biomedical research. The Washington Post has reported that the National Institutes of Health, the country’s primary sponsor of biomedical research, will receive $1 billion less in federal funding than originally promised for the coming year. This will make it difficult for the agency to continue supporting current scientific projects and will reduce the number of non-bioterrorism grants it can award. As a result, the nation will see a significant delay in the development of new medical therapies. According to Sen. Tom Harkin, the Bush budget “undermines the efforts of our best researchers and scientists to protect Americans from the threats of cancer, heart disease, and other terrible diseases.”
Social programs will also suffer. Funding for rural development and public housing programs is expected to fall far below requested levels. And as the Department of Defense budget swells to almost seven times that allotted for education, cuts will be made to post-secondary schooling and student financial assistance. Even Bush’s much-hyped “No Child Left Behind” school reform program will see 30 percent less funding than it was originally promised.
In Connecticut, where cuts in federal assistance have already necessitated layoffs in city school systems, the war is estimated to drain an additional $2 billion from health care and public education. At a local meeting in New Haven last month, Greg Speeter of the National Priorities project estimated that the amount of money Connecticut will contribute to the war effort could fund Head Start development programs and health insurance for thousands of the state’s children.
A final casualty of the war budget will be the environment. Welsey Warren of the Natural Resources Defense Council states that “even though government spending as a whole will go up by about four percent, environmental spending goes down by about 6 percent.” Among the programs expected to suffer from this funding decrease are the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Fund and the Superfund that deals with toxic waste cleanup. Consequently, according to Warren, “protection is going down and pollution is going up.” The effects of this increase in pollution on the welfare of Americans could take years to appreciate and even longer to repair.
President Bush has declared that a war with Iraq is necessary to secure the “safety of our people.” But the financial cost of such a war will directly threaten the well-being of all Americans. As more and more money is funneled away from domestic programs, this war is going to end up costing us far more than abstract billions from the federal budget. It’s going to cost us new medicines and treatments. It’s going to cost us our education and our programs for the needy. And, in time, it’s going to cost us the air we breathe and the water we drink.
Worst of all, a war with Iraq will violate the President’s promise to not “pass along our problems to future Congresses, to other presidents, and other generations.” For the more the war costs, the more economic and social hardships we will pass onto our children. And that makes this a war no American can afford.
David Grimm is a fifth-year graduate student in the Genetics Department.