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Visualizing the costs of Iraq

Gary Caruso | Thursday, September 30, 2004

Can anyone actually fathom the $200 billion cost of Iraq? After all, it is an insanely huge amount to skim from American taxpayers. It, and the $422 billion federal budget deficit, are enormous drains on our family ways of life.

Voters this fall should have a visual picture of just how much President Bush and his Republican-controlled “Tax Cut and Spend” Congress are squandering. It is no wonder that Yugoslavia, when asked to join the “Coalition of the Willing,” offered to bring a casserole.

This column will be submitted before, but published after the initial presidential debate between President Bush and Senator John Kerry. Since the media has yet to graphically display huge federal costs so that Americans can comprehend their magnitude, the debates are the perfect platforms to unveil those expenditures.

If I was coaching Kerry, I would first prepare visual images of how much the cost of Bush’s war and the Republican federal deficit are draining the American taxpayers’ pocketbook. Secondly, I would suggest that Kerry call the cost of the war “foreign aid,” because Republicans hate the notions of paying for the United Nations fee or for charity to other countries to buy their friendships. Finally, I would point to how the president speaks out of both sides of his mouth when he says Kerry would spend $2 trillion more on newly proposed programs while the president advocates private accounts in Social Security that require a transition cost of $1 trillion.

Once those arguments were framed in a debate, visually fun facts could bolster images in the voters’ minds as they prepare for their treks to the ballot box in November. The $200 billion cost of Iraq could extend dollar bills 79 times to the moon. If that seems like a fun ride, imagine extending dollar bills to represent the federal budget deficit of $422 billion for just next year alone. Now we can extend those deficit dollar bills 167 times to the moon.

The cost of Iraq could also extend 758 times around the Earth. If that sounds like excitement, take the $422 billion federal deficit ride – for next year only – and surround the Earth 1,599 times.

Rather than orbit the continents, why not stay in the good ole U.S.A. for your magic $200 billion Iraqi ride? You can ride from New York City to Los Angeles (as the bird flies) 6,061 times. Frequent flyers could ride the deficit dollars a mere 12,789 times from New York City to Los Angeles.

I prefer blankets of dollar bills since the chill of the Bush administration has blown throughout the world for nearly four years. The cost of “foreign aid” Americans paid for Iraq could cover every square inch of the United States more than one and a half times. The “burden” of the Republican federal deficit for one year could cover every square inch of this nation almost three and a half times.

I chose to calculate my native state of Pennsylvania along with my good neighbors in West Virginia (whom I hope will come back home to the Democratic party this year) as well as Michigan and Florida. The foreign aid we are paying to Iraq would cover every square inch of Pennsylvania with dollar bills 121 times. The federal deficit for one year would blanket every square inch of Pennsylvania with 255 layers of dollars bills.

My West Virginia neighbors would have to slog through 230 layers deep of dollar bills to pay for Iraq. The federal deficit dollars would cover every square inch of West Virginia piling 485 times high.

The cost of Iraq would cover every square inch of Michigan 58 times with dollar bills. To pay for the federal deficit, Michigan would be covered 122 times.

Florida would be covered slightly more, 85 layers of dollar bills for Iraqi foreign aid. To pay the federal deficit of $422 billion, every square inch of Florida would be covered with dollar bills 179 times. Imagine how difficult it would be for the gators to catch their prey through 179 layers of dollar bills.

The money stacked in these state examples is your tax dollar, or in most cases, your children’s money. I have said it early and often that this election will not be a close race. It will be interesting to see just how this presidential election plays out after the debates since the president must be perfect in those debates. He is currently running the nation and should know “wazzup.”

Another term of Bush will certainly guarantee many more layers of spent greenbacks as high as an elephant’s eye. Voters should sift past each candidate’s rhetoric and look at the facts on the ground, both in Iraq and in the federal bank. Another four years of this president may just exhaust my deficit calculator, which is a sad commentary on the record of the incumbent’s so-called leadership.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, served as a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.