Upper-Bracket Tax May Be Needed for Afghan War Cost, Levin Says
By Viola Gienger
Nov. 21 (Bloomberg) — Higher-income Americans should be taxed to pay for more troops sent to Afghanistan and NATO should provide half of the new soldiers, said Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
An “additional income tax to the upper brackets, folks earning more than $200,000 or $250,000” a year, could fund more troops, Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.
White House Budget Director Peter Orszag has estimated that each additional soldier in Afghanistan could cost $1 million, for a total that could reach $40 billion if 40,000 more troops are added.
That cost, Levin said, should be paid by wealthier taxpayers. “They have done incredibly well, and I think that it’s important that we pay for it if we possibly can” instead of increasing the federal debt load, the senator said.
Other countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization should bear responsibility for delivering half the additional troops needed to secure the conflict zone and train Afghan forces, Levin said. He didn’t predict how many troops President Barack Obama would add.
Levin also said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who has faced calls for his resignation from Republicans in Congress, should stay as long as he has Obama’s confidence. The six-term senator said the administration was right to move the prosecution of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to federal court in New York from a military commission in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Troop Decision Near
On Afghanistan, Obama may decide within a few weeks whether to grant a request from the top commander in the field, General Stanley McChrystal, for 40,000 more troops to fight the Taliban, which harbored al-Qaeda before being toppled in the invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks. The U.S. contributes about 70,000 of the 110,000 foreign forces waging the Afghan war.
Levin, who has supported adding U.S. troops to the war mainly to train the Afghan army and police to assume more responsibilities, said he might back an increase closer to 40,000 under certain conditions. These include the proportion that would be used for training, a plan for preparing enough Afghan troops and a “major program” to provide equipment to their forces.
“There’s a lot of other things involved in showing resolve beside just a troop level,” Levin said. A key element to gain support will be “that whatever is announced, it be part of a NATO-Afghan initiative,” he said.
Conditions on Aid
The U.S. also should place conditions on aid that goes through Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government to ensure that he cooperates in fighting corruption, Levin said. Karzai won re-election by default when his main challenger dropped out of a planned runoff after the first balloting in August was marred by allegations of fraud.
Levin said that while he wanted to be “hopeful” that Karzai would take steps to weed out corruption, “I’m also skeptical.”
Levin, 75, commended Pakistan’s leaders for turning more of their attention from their conflict with India to the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters sheltering near the other border with Afghanistan. Pakistan’s army and its citizens have “taken some very severe losses” in fighting the militants, he said.
“They’ve got a way to go,” Levin said.
He also praised India, saying leaders had shown “restraint” in dealing with “fanatics” who crossed over the border from Pakistan.
On the economy, Levin said Geithner has been “very helpful” on finding ways to support automakers to preserve the industry.
The broader financial crisis has demonstrated the need for tightening regulations on Wall Street, Levin said. He called the Obama administration’s recommendations on this issue “very significant.”
“I think the failure to move forward on those reforms in the Senate is the Republican resistance to some of those proposed reforms from the administration, not Democratic resistance,” Levin said.
He also praised proposals for changes from Connecticut Democrat Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.
Dodd “has put forth a very significant reform of Wall Street,” Levin said. “It is long overdue.”