Tax Analysts Blog

Finally, Some War Tax Talk

Posted on Nov 24, 2009

Will wonders never cease. After ignoring moral and economic imperaives for the better part of a decade, policymakers are finally talking about a war tax. New legislation proposed by Rep. David Obey, D-Wisc., would impose a modest, graduated surtax to help fund the war in Afghanistan. Obey offered an obvious -- and obviously compelling -- argument for the proposal: “Regardless of whether one favors the war or not, if it is to be fought, it ought to be paid for.”

I made a similar point in a prior post. The Tax Foundation offered some mild ridicule for my suggestion that the plan might actually find a constituency. And at the time, I thought the Foundation had a point. But lo and behold, it seems like someone else in Washington thinks the idea is reasonable. And the attention this proposal has gotten in the media (Politico, NPR, Time, FoxNews, to name just a few) suggests it's more than just idle chatter. I guess it helps when you get the Ways and Means chairman to sign on.

No, I'm not kidding myself: This tax has the proverbial snowball's chance in hell. But it's a fine thing to see at least a few well-placed few politicians step up to the plate. War taxes are one of the great moral issues in taxation. Historically, they have been a near constant of American politics (see my book for more on that argument). Only the post-9/11 wars have broken categorically with the American tradition of wartime sacrifice.

It's time to rediscover a more noble past.

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