CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito is a smart and gifted politician. She is also extremely personable. On the rare occasions I've had the opportunity to converse with her I've always enjoyed it.
However, I must admit that I was a bit puzzled by her recent column on the unaffordability of the Affordable Care Act.
My confusion stems from the question of just what constitutes affordability.
For example, the Iraq War, of which Capito was an early and ardent supporter, seems pretty costly to me. Between 2003 and 2012, the war cost the lives of 4,484 U.S. service personnel and injured over 32,000 more. Iraqi casualty estimates are all over the place but mostly in the six-digit range.
In fiscal terms, the war to date has cost the United States more than $813 billion, according to the National Priorities Project. It's hard to get a handle on figures that big but that's enough to fund the $11 billion West Virginia state budget at current levels for about 74 years.
I'm not sure we came out a lot ahead on that deal. Yet there didn't seem to be any complaints about the war's affordability from our congresswoman.
Nor has she to my knowledge expressed sticker shock at the cost of the Bush tax cuts, another measure she supported. Here the numbers get even bigger.
According to Citizens for Tax Justice, the cost of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans between 2001 and 2010 was $955 billion. When these were extended in 2011 and 2012, the cost was $229 billion. If extended out to 2021, the cost would be $2.02 trillion. If you add in the earlier years, the total cost would be more than $3 trillion.
Again for perspective, three trillion dollars of tightly stacked $100 bills would be 2,367 miles high. That's according to one estimate I found and a little calculator math, although I admit I haven't actually tried it.
At any rate, that's quite a bit of loose change, yet Rep. Capito has never questioned the affordability of those tax cuts.
(And, by the way, I'm not sure we came out ahead from that decision either. Those tax cuts were said to be good for the economy, whereas in reality they helped fuel a speculative bubble that wound up leading to the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression ... which began before the current resident of the White House took up occupancy.)
So, yes, I'm a little confused when I'm told we can't afford health-care reform, which would save thousands of lives, create jobs and eventually cover 200,000 or so hardworking uninsured West Virginians. Compared to these other purchases, I'd say it's a good deal.
I guess it's a question of priorities.
Wilson, director of the American Friends Service Committee's West Virginia Economic Justice Project, is a Gazette contributing columnist.