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Former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel attacked the Iraq war during a recent debate by highlighting the increasing costs.
"Stop and think," he said at Howard University on June 28, 2007. "When he's talking about the money we're squandering, 21-million Americans could have a four-year college scholarship for the money we've squandered in Iraq. 7.6-million teachers could have been hired last year if we weren't squandering this money."
Gravel's campaign staff didn't respond to numerous requests for documentation supporting those numbers. They couldn't even say how much they think the Iraq war costs.
But we researched the numbers anyway and found that in making his comparison he goes too high on one and too low on the other. Ruling? Half true.
We interpreted his assertion to mean that the Iraq war budget would pay for the scholarships or the teachers' salaries, rather than both.
The College Board puts the average cost of tuition for a four-year public university in 2006 at $5,836. Do the math: the sum exceeds $490.2-billion, much higher than even the highest estimate.
The U.S. Department of Education reports the average teacher salary was $47,750 in 2005, the most recent year available. That produces a total of $363-billion, well below the lowest estimate.
The Congressional Budget Office conservatively estimates the entire bill for the Iraq war since 2001 is $413-billion. The Congressional research did its own calculation to show that the price tag to date is $450.4-billion.
So Gravel's comparisons are at once exaggerated and underestimated, but they are within the same range of the projected costs.
Congressional Budget Office testimony, Estimated Costs of U.S. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and of Other Activities Related to the War on Terrorism July 31, 2007.
Office of Managment and Budget, Department of Defense 2008 Fact Sheet
Center for Strategic and International Studies, The Uncertain Cost of the Global War on Terror August 2007.
The Brookings Institution, Iraq Index
Aug. 27, 2007 Linda Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz, Harvard University, The Economic Costs of the Iraq War Jan. 11, 2006.
Mike Gravel, Howard University presidential forum June 28, 2007.
College Board, Trends in College Pricing, 2006.
National Center for Education Statistics, Estimated Annual Salary of Teachers, 2006.
Interview with Melissa Merson, Congressional Budget Office spokeswoman, Sept. 17, 2007.
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