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Trump: Middle East Spending Cuts Into Infrastructure

| by Robert Fowler

President Donald Trump has asserted that the U.S. should roll back its spending in Middle Eastern conflicts and instead invest in infrastructure. The president's latest comments echo his rhetoric from the campaign trail.

On July 13, Trump blasted Congress for being more willing to spend taxpayer dollars on U.S. interventionism than investing in domestic infrastructure.

"We have to rebuild our country," Trump told CBN News. "Our roads, our bridges, our tunnels, our schools. We will have in another few months, have spent $7 trillion in the Middle East. Seven trillion."

The president made similar comments in October 2016, when he railed against the U.S. spending priorities during a campaign rally in North Carolina.

"The people opposing as are the same people ... who've wasted $6 trillion on wars in the Middle East -- we could have rebuilt our country twice -- that have produced only more terrorism, more death, and more suffering -- imagine if that money had been spent at home," Trump said.

Trump's comments require context. The U.S. has not directly spent $6 trillion on wars in the Middle East, but several analyses have estimated the price tag would rise over decades after factoring in medical costs for the American veterans who engaged in those conflicts, according to PolitiFact.

In 2014, the Congressional Research Service estimated that the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 through 2014 cost the U.S. roughly $1.6 trillion in direct expenditures. In 2013, Harvard University estimated the cost was actually between $4 trillion and $6 trillion after figuring in interest, Pentagon personnel costs and veteran health care.

Future interest on the Middle Eastern wars would likely balloon the burden for taxpayers over time. In September 2016, a study conducted by Brown University estimated "[b]y 2053, interest costs will be at least $7.9 trillion unless the U.S. changes the way it pays for the wars."

In Trump's view, the U.S. government has invested more money in overseas intervention than in domestic projects.

"And then if you want to spend two dollars on building a school in Iowa, or in Pennsylvania, or in Florida, they don't want to give you the money," Trump continued on CBN News. "How ridiculous is this?"

The president added that he did not believe U.S. involvement in the region had paid off, concluding, "the Middle East is a mess."

Trump has aimed to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure package. His administration has yet to submit a plan to Congress. On June 29, GOP Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said he was unsure that Congress would address infrastructure within 2017.

"They're supposedly going to submit some sort of plan in the fall, so we'll see," Thune said, according to The Hill. "We're sort of waiting on the administration to tell us what it is exactly they want to do. That ... would be an interesting debate and discussion, which might spill into next year."

Is infrastructure spending hobbled by wars in the Middle East?
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