TIME politics

Rangel: It’s Time for a War Tax and a Reinstated Draft

Representative Charles Rangel Interview
Bloomberg—Getty Images Representative Charles Rangel, a Democrat from New York, speaks during an interview in New York, U.S., on Friday, June 6, 2014.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) is a combat veteran and former Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee.

Everyone in America needs a real stake in any decision to go to war

While I am optimistic about our Commander-in-Chief’s strategy to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, I voted against the Continuing Appropriations Resolution 2015 that would grant the President the authority to provide funds to train and arm Syrian rebels against the enemy. I opposed the amendment because I strongly believe amassing additional debt to go to war should involve all of America debating the matter. That is why I have called for levying a war tax in addition to bringing back the military draft. Both the war surcharge and conscription will give everyone in America a real stake in any decision on going to war, and compel the public to think twice before they make a commitment to send their loved ones into harm’s way.

As a Korean War veteran, I know the plight of war. Our military is the best in the world, but war is unpredictable and chaotic. In the event that the conflict in Iraq and Syria necessitates American troops on the ground, everyone should share the sacrifices instead of the small few who are already carrying that burden.

For a decade I have been calling for the reinstatement of the draft because our military personnel and their families bear a tremendous cost each time we send them to fight. Since 2001, nearly 7,000 soldiers have paid for these wars with their lives. More than 52,000 have been wounded, many narrowly saved by the miracle of modern medicine. The 3.3 million military households have become a virtual military class who are unfairly shouldering the brunt of war. Many men and women in uniform serve multiple tours, as many as 10, and 25 percent of America’s active duty military personnel suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is unacceptable that on average 22 veterans die by suicide every day. If war is truly necessary, we should all come together in defense of our nation, not just one percent of America.

In addition to the significant number of precious lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have accumulated too much debt to finance these wars. The United States has borrowed almost $2 trillion to fund our military engagements on foreign soil. It is estimated that the total cost would be close to $6 trillion; we continue to pay a heavy toll for these conflicts. Each dollar spent on war is a dollar not spent on education, energy, housing, or healthcare. We cannot afford to tread this same path when we are slashing domestic programs that are the lifelines for so many Americans. I will soon introduce a bill that will impose war tax to ensure that we do not have to choose between further gutting the social safety net and adding to the $17.7 trillion of national debt.

I continue to believe that under President Obama’s leadership, the international community will rid itself of this cancer. Secretary of State John Kerry has reported that nearly 30 countries have stepped up to support the fight against ISIS. These countries intend to provide financial resources, intelligence, equipment and training. Furthermore, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi stated that their government also does not want President Barack Obama to send American ground troops to fight in Iraq. Nevertheless we must be prepared for the worst.

ISIS militants are a real threat. They have already killed two American journalists and thousands of Syrians and Iraqis in their brutal attempt to establish an Islamic caliphate. If left unchecked, they can jeopardize our core interests abroad and at home. We must share the burden in diminishing their impact to our national security. Containing their spread will help America and our allies to feel safe whether at home or abroad. Reinstating the draft and imposing the war tax will ensure that our safety is sustainable, our financial engagements abroad are not borrowed, and that all Americans have a role in defending and protecting our nation.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) is a combat veteran and former Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee.

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TIME Infrastructure

Rep. Charles Rangel: For Too Long, Congress Has Ignored Infrastructure

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), speaks to the media near the smoking site of an explosion in East Harlem on March 13, 2014 in New York City.
John Moore—Getty Images U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), speaks to the media near the smoking site of an explosion in East Harlem on March 13, 2014 in New York City.

In the wake of the explosion and building collapse in East Harlem that killed at least eight people, apparently caused by a gas leak, Rep. Charles Rangel says the country's infrastructure must be shored up to meet the demands of the 21st century

When I first described as “our community’s 9/11” what we now know was a gas explosion, I was referring to the chaos and shock that resulted from the tragic incident that occurred in the heart of my beloved congressional district in East Harlem on Wednesday morning. While it was neither a terrorist attack nor comparable to 9/11 in scope and scale, the suffering from loss or injuries of loved ones has been as painful and horrific to the entire community where I was born and lived all my life. Still, I could not be more proud of the first responders and the Red Cross, as well as Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who have provided immediate assistance to my constituents for which I am grateful.

We have to wait for the findings from the National Transportation Safety Board team’s investigation, but it is apparent that the catastrophic gas explosion has been caused by poor and outdated infrastructure. According to the Center for an Urban Future’s recently released report, New York City’s gas mains are on average 56 years old, with most of them made of materials that are highly leak-prone. Altogether, the City needs almost $47 billion worth of infrastructure upgrades by 2020. It is costly, but we will pay a higher and terrible price if we ignore it.

In fact, our nation’s overall infrastructure is in dire condition. The American Society of Civil Engineers, in its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, gave a near-failing grade of D+ based on physical condition and needed investments for improvement. For too long, Congress has ignored the urgent need to provide funding that directly impacts the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Before any other community across the country suffers great destruction, we must commit to shoring up our 20th century infrastructure that simply cannot keep up with the demands of the 21st century.

This is why we should support President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget request, which lays out a long-term plan that expands economic growth, makes critical investments in our future, and reduces the deficit. The President’s 10-year request includes proposals aimed at enhancing the role of private capital in U.S. infrastructure investment as a vital additive to the traditional roles of federal, state, and local governments. It also calls for the creation of an independent government entity, such as the National Infrastructure Bank or similar financing vehicle, in addition to the enactment of the America Fast Forward Bonds program and other tax incentives to attract new sources of capital that can help buttress our nation’s infrastructure.

Today, New Orleans stands strong with upgraded levees. These are nothing like the flawed structures that failed in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, killing more than 1,800 people and causing nearly $125 billion in damage. The new system will greatly reduce flooding, even in 500-year storms, because it was rebuilt with enhanced engineering and durable construction materials to provide state-of-the-art protection to the residents of the Gulf Coast who have courageously overcome the devastation and destruction caused by the deadly hurricane.

I am fortunate to represent a community where people have offered their homes, hands, and prayers to help their neighbors in any way that they can. Our community is resilient and will recover from the tragedy stronger and as united as ever, just as our country did after 9/11. Congress must subsequently fulfill its obligation to the American taxpayers to ensure public safety. While we cannot stop Mother Nature from wreaking havoc in our communities, lawmakers must do what we can to invest in sustainable infrastructure that will insure against preventable harm.

Charles B. Rangel is a 22nd-term Congressman representing New York’s thirteenth congressional district, which includes Upper Manhattan and parts of the Bronx.

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