Experts Calculate Billions in Long-term Costs of War

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Congress has approved about $450 billion to date for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but economists also have been tabulating the long-term costs such as veterans' care.

JIM LEHRER: Now, what the war in Iraq is costing. Democrats in Congress are still trying to pass a war funding bill the president will sign. That legislation will provide money for military operations, but those funds are only part of the larger price tag. The NewsHour's economics correspondent, Paul Solman, has our report.

PAUL SOLMAN, NewsHour Economics Correspondent: The cost of the Iraq war, it's a far cry from the original estimates.

DONALD RUMSFELD, Former U.S. Secretary of Defense: The Office of Management and Budget estimated it would be something under $50 billion.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, Host, "This Week": Outside estimates say up to $300 billion.


PAUL SOLMAN: The $50 billion estimate turns out to be a modest fraction of what the war has actually cost thus far, the out-of-pocket, mainly military costs.

GREG SPEETER, National Priorities Project: We're averaging, over the period of the war, about $275 million a day.

PAUL SOLMAN: Greg Speeter runs the National Priorities Project and its Web site, which tracks the spending per second. At this point, says Speeter, the total is close to $450 billion.

GREG SPEETER: That gives you some indication of just how expensive this war is.

PAUL SOLMAN: But, no, it really doesn't, according to those who've looked at the numbers more broadly. As economist Linda Bilmes explains...

LINDA BILMES, Harvard University: Even if we withdrew all of our troops from Iraq tomorrow, the war would still keep costing us money for many, many years to come, because there are several long-term costs which are not included in the running costs of the war.

PAUL SOLMAN: With Nobel laureate economist and former Bill Clinton adviser Joe Stiglitz, Bilmes did a cost study that's received a lot of attention for its bottom line.

LINDA BILMES: The total cost of the war would be between $1 trillion and $2 trillion.

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