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Conservative Activist Grover Norquist Wants Debate on Cost of War in Afghanistan

Small government activist Grover Norquist is calling for Republicans to begin a serious debate on the Afghanistan war. Not surprisingly, Norquist was focusing on the cost of financing our seemingly endless military commitment to the country. From Dan Froomkin:

Norquist said the question for those who want to reduce government spending is this: “If you don’t take $10 billion out of the occupation of Afghanistan, you’re going to take it out where?”

He said the debate about the war in Afghanistan should include discussion “about the vast expenditures of cash, the vast expenditures of other people lives, and the opportunity cost” of money and effort that could be expended elsewhere.

“It seems to me that it has been more expensive than not. And it has made America weaker than otherwise,” he said.

Finally having at least a small segment of high-profile so-called “fiscal conservatives” to question the wisdom of spending $119 billion (PDF) this year in Afghanistan caused me to reach for the latest CBO analysis on our war spending.

Last year, the CBO published only two documents about the cost of the war in Afghanistan that were not a direct analysis of defense authorization bill. One is from the very beginning of the year; it estimated the cost of what was supposed to be a temporary increase of troops in Afghanistan: “In total, deploying an additional 30,000 personnel to Afghanistan would probably cost about $36 billion over the four-year period of 2010 through 2013, CBO estimates.”

The other was about the future cost of providing health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs and what the burden would be due to veterans of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).

The CBO concludes that OCO veterans’ care will cost the government roughly $45-54 billion from 2010-2020. About half of that cost will be due to their deployments as part of the wars (PDF):

CBO estimates that just over one-half of service members who deployed to the first Gulf War would have used VA’s health care services even if they had not served in theater but that those users would have made 10 percent fewer ambulatory visits, on average, through 2004 had they not deployed. Assuming that similar patterns hold true for OCO enrollees, CBO estimates that of the $46 billion in projected costs over the 2002–2020 period for OCO veterans under Scenario 1, about $25 billion can be specifically attributed to their deployments.

This budget window significantly hides the government’s long-term cost of providing health care since these veteran are currently very young and relatively healthy.

OCO veterans are likely to be younger than the overall enrollee population, and healthier, because they have not developed age-related conditions, such as diabetes and heart conditions. Nearly 70 percent of OCO veterans are under the age of 45, and all but 1 percent of the rest are under the age of 60. By contrast, about 15 percent of enrollees in the overall VA population are under the age of 45, 40 percent are 45 to 64 years of age, and 45 percent are 65 or older.

Outside this ten-year window, the CBO expects, “the cost of treating OCO veterans to rise as they age. ” We will see a significant long-term burden caring for the veterans of this conflict as they get older and much more expensive to care for.

Despite Washington entering a period of extreme deficit hysteria, there has been shockingly little official analysis of both the present and long-term cost of the extremely expensive war in Afghanistan. Maybe, while the Republican party quickly moves away from its promise to cut $100 billion annually in non-defense discretionary spending, just maybe they will start thinking about cutting this $119 billion in defense discretionary spending.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at