WASHINGTON – A special tax? War bonds like those that fueled the US military in World War II? A spending freeze? US lawmakers wondered aloud Tuesday how to pay for a new "surge" in Afghanistan.
"There isn't any miraculous way to pay for it, but some have suggested -- and I think it's worth considering -- whether or not you have war bonds," said Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
"I don't know whether you can raise enough money, I don't know what capital is out there to be able to do that, but I start off thinking that we'd be better off to borrow from ourselves than to borrow from China," he added.
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US lawmakers have increasingly worried about the national debt, which soared 4.9 trillion dollars under president George W. Bush and has climbed 1.6 trillion since Barack Obama took office in January and now tops 12 trillion dollars.
War bonds, which Washington last turned to in World War II, could be a way for the United States to borrow from its own citizens instead of from giant overseas creditors like rising-power China.
"I think that's a great idea. It's an interesting idea. Everybody has got to contribute a little bit to this effort because it's important to all of us," said independent Senator Joe Lieberman.
An Obama administration official said the president is ordering an accelerated deployment of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan within six months.
A handful of lawmakers, led by Democratic Senator Russell Feingold, have said they oppose Obama's planned escalation and could seek to block further funding for it.
"Everything would be on the table in terms of trying to prevent this error from occurring," said Feingold.
Other lawmakers, led by Democratic Representative Dave Obey, the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, have pushed for a special new tax, chiefly on the richest Americans, to share the "sacrifice" of war.
"We believe that if this war is to be fought, it's only fair that everyone share the burden," Obey and other supporters of the plan said two weeks ago.
"I'm not supporting it at this point in time," Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday, adding he likes the "general proposition" but as yet was not sold on the specific approach.
The surtax, whose chief backers include several tough critics of the war in Afghanistan, has run into stiff opposition from influential senators and members of the House of Representatives.
"You're not going to raise taxes in the midst of a downturn, that just doesn't make good economic sense, but at the same time this needs to be paid for over time," said Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate's budget committee.
Obama's 2008 rival for the White House, Republican Senator John McCain, called for freezing discretionary government spending at 2009 levels and predicted this would yield about 60 billion dollars.
"I would look forward eagerly to going through the appropriations and finding those items which are far, far less important than funding our efforts in Afghanistan," he said.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said unspent funds in the 787-billion-dollar economic stimulus package approved in early 2009 would be "a good place to look."
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was taking a "wait and see" approach until he had all the details of Obama's new plan.
Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan said while he does not have a favorite among the plans, he "absolutely" supports spreading the economic pain more fairly while not running up the debt.
"We've been adding to the charge card ever since the president sent the first troops to Iraq and that's irresponsible," he said.
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