WASHINGTON - House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt on Tuesday criticized a "war tax" proposed by House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey in an unusual public spat between two top Democrats.
The dispute between South Carolina's Spratt and Wisconsin's Obey, who work closely together to set spending limits, shows the difficulties President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats face as they try to pay for Afghanistan, health care and other costly initiatives amid rising federal deficits.
Spratt said income taxes shouldn't be raised to pay for the troop buildup.
"I don't think it's timely to put a surcharge on income given the state of the economy," Spratt said.
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He said the cost of sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan would likely be offset by savings from removing troops and equipment from Iraq.
"The builddown in Iraq is likely to be a bit faster than the buildup in Afghanistan," Spratt said. "Consequently, the savings from the Iraq deployment will offset the increased deployment in Afghanistan."
When he introduced the Share the Sacrifice Act on Nov. 19, Obey said he opposed a troop increase in Afghanistan. If Obama dispatches the extra troops, he said, taxpayers should make financial sacrifices to share the burdens soldiers and their families bear.
The measure has 10 co-sponsors, among them House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank of Massachusetts; Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, chairman of the powerful defense appropriations subcommittee; and Rep. John Larson of Connecticut, the No. 4 Democratic House leader.
Obey's tax is a graduated levy that would affect most Americans but hit wealthier ones harder.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Tuesday he supports the concept of a special war tax, but said it shouldn't be imposed during this economic recession.
Hoyer blamed President George W. Bush for the difficult choices Obama faces.
"Unfortunately, we find ourselves as the inheritors of two challenges of significant proportion," Hoyer said. "A failed economy and a failure to succeed in Afghanistan."
Spratt said Obey's measure could gain political traction because it appeals to two groups of House Democrats - fiscal conservatives and anti-war lawmakers who want to increase the pressure to leave Afghanistan.
"Somewhere down the road, we may have to confront this issue - the cost of this deployment and what it does to the deficit," Spratt told ABCNew.com's "Top Line" Webcast. "But we don't want to raise taxes - particularly a surcharge on income taxes - in the midst of a bad recession."