It’s appropriation season in Congress. As part of its annual ritual, Congress is unable to get its job done. It’s obvious it can’t cut small items out of its spending. It also can’t cut big items out of its spending. More terrifying, however, Congress does not debate undeclared wars, misinformation, and lies. Other than exhibiting passion on cable news, Congress is full of sound and fury but accomplishing nothing.
At least $18 trillion of our $33 trillion national debt can be attributed to some combination of six undeclared wars, emergency declarations, and lies. Citizens are not only left with the $250,000 per taxpayer tab but also with inflation, decaying schools, rising interest rates, declining wages, sagging productivity, labor strikes, supply chain problems, increasing taxes, open borders, and terrorists in the homeland. These problems are not music to the ears of Americans who “get another day older and deeper in debt.”
The unfortunate aspect of this situation is that more than one-half of the national debt might have been avoided by honesty from our presidents and a Congress willing to debate the issues of the day.
$18 trillion of policy mistakes that could have been avoided by a serious debate in Congress.
Vietnam (1965-1973). The U.S. was not attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin as it claimed, yet that lie was our excuse for waging a war against North Vietnam that killed 58,220 American soldiers, wounded 153,303, and another 1,643 are still missing. The war cost U.S. citizens $168 billion in the 1960s-1970s, which would be over $1 trillion today. The costs of that war continue today, with around $22 billion in compensation for injured veterans and lifetime benefits for their families. U.S. involvement in the war ended in 1973, but the U.S. withdrawal was a roadmap to its withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Afghanistan and Global War on Terror (2001 to 2022). After terrorists crashed airplanes into the Twin Towers in NYC and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, the home of the terrorists. The global war on terror began and lasted for two decades. The U.S. stayed at war in the Middle East 18 years after President Bush declared “Mission Accomplished.” Its cost is estimated at $8 trillion and over 900,000 deaths. Even after the war ended, the U.S. estimates $2.2 trillion for the future care of our veterans. After two decades of fighting in Afghanistan, the U.S. disgracefully abandoned the war and the hundreds of thousands of Afghans who worked to help the Americans. The U.S. also left $7.12 billion worth of equipment for the terrorists to use against us.
The Iraq War (2003 – 2011). The Iraq War was the result of the U.S. Intelligence Agencies falsely telling the American people Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destructions (“WMD”). Hussein did not have any WMD. Rather the war was President Bush’s obsession to remove Hussein from power to correct what he believed was a mistake by Father Bush not to invade Iraq and eliminate Saddam Hussein. The cost of the Iraq war was $1.8 trillion and cost 550,000 lives.
Ukraine War (2022-present). So far. the U.S. has spent $115 billion on the Ukraine war with Russia. While the history of the Ukraine War is not written, there is considerable controversy over the U.S. role in the 2014 coup that overthrew the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. The U.S. and the EU certainly wanted a friendly Ukrainian government. The toppling of the Russian-friendly ruler and the installation of a pro-western ruler of Ukraine led to Russia invading and taking Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Complicating Ukrainian politics, in 2016, after a new Ukraine president was installed, then Vice President Biden threatened to deny Ukraine $1 billion if the president of Ukraine did not fire Special Prosecutor Shokin, who was investigating Burisma, a corrupt company that paid large sums of money to Hunter Biden to lobby the Obama administration to force Ukraine to end the investigations of its corruption. Now President Biden has forcefully stated he will support Ukraine for “as long as it takes.” The final cost of war is unknown, and the cost of rebuilding Ukraine will be in the hundreds of billions.
Cost of Covid (2019-2022). The federal government spent over $4.6 trillion during the Covid pandemic. Most of the money went to individuals and corporations to keep them afloat during the government-mandated shutdown and to Big Pharma for the vaccines that were never properly tested. There is considerable conflict over the usefulness of the Covid vaccines. Moreover, there are many who believe the lockdowns, school closures, fraud, lost productivity, and the rise in mental health cases will cost the U.S. many trillions in the future. The OECD estimates the cost of the lost learning in the U.S. will be $14.1 trillion. Congress never received any information from either Trump or Biden on the origins of COVID-19.
The Inflation Reduction Act (2023). The IRA is not about reducing inflation in any manner. It was about funding green technology. The IRA tax credits for anything “green” incentivized more pigs to show up at the trough than CBO estimated. Within months after the program started, Goldman Sachs raised its estimated cost of the credits to $1.2 trillion for the same time period. The original forecast missed the cost of the credits for electric vehicles by $379 billion; energy manufacturing, $156 billion; renewable electricity production, $82 billion; energy efficiency, $42 billion; hydrogen, $36 billion; biofuels, $34 billion; and carbon capture, $31 billion.
Governments Make Mistakes; unfortunately, the U.S. federal government does not learn from them.
The total cost of these few policy mistakes is over $18 trillion. As to the wars, Congress never declared any of them. As to Vietnam and Iraq, the American people were simply lied to. As to the COVID cover-up, the most disconcerting fact is that the nation has still not told its citizens the origins of COVID-19 or provided the scientific studies to support the mandated vaccinations, lockdowns, closures, or other police state tactics.
The U.S. federal government appears to be incapable of learning from its mistakes. The U.S. involves itself in war after war, yet Congress never debates the issue before the president sends money, equipment, troops, or some combination of war assistance to the fight. The U.S. federal government passes society-changing policies like COVID and IRA and appropriates trillions to implement them with few, if any, members of Congress or the president even reading the summaries of the laws.
The American people deserve more for the $6 trillion they send to Washington each year and the $33 trillion the federal government borrowed in their name. Asking Congress to perform its constitutional responsibility to declare war before the president sends troops and/or equipment to fight the war is not unreasonable. Demanding the Executive to provide the science underlying major public health orders is not unreasonable. Demanding our leaders tell us the truth, rather than lies, about what the government is doing is not unreasonable. Unfortunately, Congress and the president seem very content with living in a state of unreason, i.e., the absence of reason. Does anyone care?
William L. Kovacs has served as senior vice president for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, chief counsel to a congressional committee, and a partner in law D.C. law firms. His book Reform the Kakistocracy is the winner of the 2021 Independent Press Award for Political/Social Change. He can be contacted at [email protected]