Comparing costs

COMPARING COSTS…. In his Oval Office address last night, President Obama explained, “Unfortunately, over the last decade, we’ve not done what’s necessary to shore up the foundations of our own prosperity. We spent a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits.”

This, apparently, didn’t go over well on Fox News.

After Fox & Friend Brian Kilmeade said he was “stunned” that Obama said the Iraq war contributed to deficits, Fox & Friend Gretchen Carlson said, “Look at the difference in the spending between Iraq, a $709 billion, versus the stimulus of $862 billion.”

This, apparently, has become something of a talking point among Republicans, so it’s probably worth taking a moment to set the record straight.

First, when it comes to costs, the comparison itself borders on offensive — one is recovery initiative that strengthened the economy, the other is a war that killed thousands. The $709 billion figure that Fox News relied on doesn’t include, and can’t include, the price of lost lives and injured soldiers whose lives will never be the same.

Second, the Fox News figure is deliberately misleading. According to the Congressional Budget Office, operations for the war in Iraq totaled $709 billion through 2010. But the U.S. effort in Iraq does not suddenly become cost free once 2010 ends — we still have tens of thousands of troops on the ground in Iraq, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars. Indeed, through 2014, the U.S. policy in Iraq is expected to add an additional $156 billion to the deficit, and Republicans don’t intend to try to pay for a penny of it.

Third, the cost of operations is itself a low-ball. Because this is the first time in American history we didn’t raise taxes to help finance a war, and we borrowed the money to pay for our security, there’s interest on the debt to consider. More importantly, the price tag doesn’t reflect the ongoing medical costs of injured war veterans who come home. These costs matter, too, even if it’s inconvenient for Kilmeade’s and Carlson’s chosen narrative.

And finally, it’s a relatively minor point, but Fox & Friends put the cost of the stimulus at $862 billion. In reality, according to the CBO — the source the program used for the other figure — the Recovery Act cost $814 billion.

Bottom line: this new talking point is ridiculous from every angle.