WASHINGTON — Tough talk is cheap, and so are votes to go to war if lawmakers and most of their constituents don’t suffer any consequences, said Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) in an interview with The Huffington Post last week.
Rangel called for a military draft and a war tax in order to make the majority of Americans — and the lawmakers who represent them — “feel” the consequences of the ongoing military campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
His comments came shortly before Congress voted to approve $500 million to train and arm Syrian rebels, permitting an escalation of President Barack Obama’s military campaign against the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIL and ISIS.
The vote allowed Congress to skip town before the November elections without taking a politically consequential vote on whether or not to actually authorize war. At the same time, it lets Obama expand a military effort that several of his advisers have, in fact, described as war.
Rangel, who voted against the funding, said he thinks that when Congress comes back, the stakes should be raised for members and the people who will have just voted them back into office.
“It just seems to me that we have not had the debate that’s needed with such extraordinary actions being taken,” Rangel said. “I would feel better if we had some taxes attached to it, or a draft attached to it.”
“It just makes sense. If it’s national security, you’ve got to feel it. If it’s somebody else’s problem, then I don’t think we’re giving this the debate that it deserves,” Rangel said.
Rangel, a Korean War veteran, has previously introduced bills to reinstate the draft, and has one sitting in committee currently.
“It should be something that forces us to think. What could clear your mind better?” said Rangel, who has frequently noted that the poor tend to shoulder the burdens of combat disproportionately.
In addition to the draft, Rangel proposed a tax to cover the costs of the conflict, in order to force lawmakers to be upfront with their constituents about the expense of military operations. He noted that for recent conflicts, the nation has simply tacked such spending onto the deficit.
“We’ve got to have a war tax, because with the deficit we have, with education, jobs, housing, healthcare — how the hell are we going to do all that?” Rangel said. “The last wars we lost 6,000 people and had two tax cuts.”
Rangel has never attracted much support for his ideas to make the rest of the country share the pain of battle, and he’s not likely to win much more now — his draft legislation has only one cosponsor, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). But Rangel says it’s worth at least raising the issue, given the prospects of fighting a so-called war on terror that many in the White House and Congress expect will last decades.
“The whole idea of getting involved in a war that may take 10, 20 or 30 years… it’s really, to me, frightening,” said Rangel. “We don’t even know what the hell the enemy looks like unless we ask them to put on name tags.”