A more than $1.4 trillion federal deficit is making the war in Afghanistan and health care reform competing priorities for American taxpayer dollars.
The president is expected to order an additional 30,000 service members to go to Afghanistan, at an estimated cost of $1 million each, in an announcement about his new Afghan war strategy scheduled for Tuesday night.
Yet health care reform is full speed ahead as well, at a cost estimated at around $900 billion.
With Americans anxious over a double-digit unemployment rate in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, Democrats and Republicans bickered this weekend over which issue should take priority.
Democrats critical of a U.S. troops surge focused on its costs vis-a-vis health care reform, while Republicans argued national security spending should come before costly domestic initiatives. According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans are almost evenly divided over whether they support sending more troops to Afghanistan.
The poll found that over the last few weeks, Americans have become more likely to favor increasing troop levels Afghanistan, at 47 percent. Yet almost an equal number of Americans would either reduce troop levels or keep them where they are, at 39 percent and 9 percent respectively.
House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. David Obey, D-Wisc. reiterated Sunday his proposal to tax Americans to pay for the Afghan War and any troop increase. His proposed Share the Sacrifice Act of 2010 would tax American couples making more than $150,000 a year to pay for the war in Afghanistan.
"We've been told for a year that we need to pay for every dollar that it's going to cost us to reform our health care system. That's about $900 billion over 10 years. If we wind up being committed in Afghanistan for eight to 10 years, that's also going to approach $800 billion to $900 billion," Obey said on CNN's "State of the Union."
"It seems to me that if we're being told we have to pay for health care, we certainly ought to pay for this effort as well," Obey said.
"The problem is that you can have the best policy in the world, but if you don't have the tools to implement it, it isn't worth a beanbag," he said. "And I don't think we have the tools in the Pakistani government and I don't think we have the tools in the Afghan government. And until we do, I think much of what we do is a fool's errand."
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., member of the Armed Services Committee and a West Point military academy graduate, made similar statements.
"We have to begin to pay for everything we do. We're engaged in a huge debate on health care and central to that debate is paying for it. And if we're paying for the health and welfare of the American people, we certainly have to pay for our operations overseas," Reed said on CNN.
"I think the important point is that we have to commit not to indefinitely, through deficits, fund these operations, but do it in a reasonable, pragmatic way," he said.
Liberal independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said it was difficult to support a troop increase in Afghanistan, given the current domestic economic woes and lack of international cooperation on the war.