Plastic Santa bill equals US defence budget, says general

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AMERICANS spend as much on "plastic Santa Clauses and tinsel" and other Christmas decorations as they do on their military, the United States Army's top general said yesterday.

Lamenting at complaints by some about high defence spending, Gen Peter Schoomaker, the chief of staff, told reporters: "I don't understand. What's the problem?"

Gen Schoomaker said the defence budget the Bush administration requested this year - nearly $440 billion (246 billion), not including the costs of war in Iraq and Afghanistan - was just over 3 per cent of the nation's economy.

"What do you think we spent on plastic Santa Clauses and tinsel and all this stuff for Christmas last year?" he asked reporters. "The answer is $438.5 billion, roughly equivalent to the defence budget.

"We've got a lot to be thankful for in this country and we've got a lot to lose. "

Gen Schoomaker fears it may take a fight to get enough money to replace equipment and supplies used up in Iraq.