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In slashing funding for ag, seniors, kids programs, don’t overlook bloated defense budget

 While you’re shopping at the across-the-county-line fireworks stand for roman candles, skyrockets, sparklers, and other pyrotechnics for Christmas entertainment, you might give some thought to the fireworks you’re paying for every day in Afghanistan and Iraq.

How about $1 million each for Tomahawk missiles? Or if you want to be bargain basement, Hellfire missiles at $40,000 per. Or a Javelin anti-tank missle, only $100 thou. A few bunker buster bombs at $145,000 each, or a gaggle of Gator cluster bombs at $40,000.

Or the 1 billion plus — yes, billion — bullets that U.S. soldiers are firing each year in Afghanistan and Iraq, a volume so enormous that American law enforcement agencies are contending with an ammo shortage and prices that have escalated 40 percent or more.

If you look at a chart of the money your government spends, the largest chunk goes to Health and Human Services, but there’s only a hair’s breadth between that and Defense.

Now that the “Super Committee” on debt reduction has tossed in the towel, the moguls of the defense sector have been everywhere present in the media, painting doomsday pictures of the prospect of across-the-board cuts that will supposedly be automatically triggered in 2013. For defense, that would be about $600 billion.

Brett Arends, who writes the MarketWatch column for the Wall Street Journal (a publication not exactly antithetical to big business), notes that the weeping and wailing over potential defense cuts is crocodile tears.

“Nothing ever gets cut in Washington,” he said in an interview with Sacha Pfeiffer on NPR’s Here and Now. “What Washington calls a cut is really just a more modest increase than you were expecting.”

 Even with the cuts (which nobody really expects to happen), he points out that defense spending would increase by 16 percent over the next 10 years — just not the 23 percent that was originally penciled in. So, $695 billion in 2012 would be “slashed” to $818 billion in 2021. Talk about modern math!

“Defense spending is now absolutely off the charts by any modern historical measure,” Arends says. “We’re spending more than we did at the peak in Vietnam, more than we did at the peak of Ronald Reagan’s defense buildup, more than we did at the peak in Korea — it’s absolutely crazy ... This level of spending is absolutely staggering, given we aren’t facing the kind of advanced military threat we faced in the Cold War.”

Despite the budget agreement that mandates these cuts in the defense budget, they’re unlikely to happen, Arends says, in part due to the defense industry’s well-oiled lobbying machine — they spend about $100 million a year to get the ears of Congress and the administration.

Whether one’s hawk or dove in terms of military, when it comes to reining in out-of-control U.S. spending, defense should share the pain — just like agriculture, senior citizens, school kids, and everyone else facing the budget ax.

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