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Iraq showdown at the authorization bill

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Bob Moon: Appreciate you joining us on this ninth day of July, a day a lot of us got back to work after an extended holiday — including Congress. And topping the agenda for the Senate today, a huge defense authorization bill for next year.

For the first time, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be funded inside a regular Defense Department budget bill. And see if you can get your mind around this — that makes this $650 billion authorization the largest since World War II.

As Marketplace’s John Dimsdale reports, Democrats will try to use the defense authorization to hasten the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

John Dimsdale: For the time being, Democrats will steer clear of efforts to restrict funding for military operations in Iraq. They’ll start their debate with an amendment requiring that soldiers be given more time at home between combat deployments — three years for Reserve and Guard troops.

The sponsor, Virginia Democrat Jim Webb, says that’ll force a change in strategy.

Jim Webb: The availability of our troops should be the main determinant of how our ground operations are being designed. And that is the intent of the amendment.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Research Service calculates the total cost of the war on terror is now just about the same as the war in Vietnam. Military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are running at $12 billion a month — a 40 percent increase over last year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that puts more pressure on the Bush administration to change policy.

Harry Reid: The American people recognize that this war now, with the General Accounting office saying its costing $12 billion a month, that the loss of life and limb is significant, that it’s really time to have the Iraqis take care of their own country.

However, the White House denies reports the president is considering an early pullback of U.S. forces. A preliminary assessment of the troop surge is due this weekend, and administration spokesman Tony Snow was pressed by reporters on whether a change of course will be announced.

Tony Snow: Don’t expect us to lift the veil and have a whole different strategy. We’re not gonna have a strategy jumping out of the cake.

The Senate debate on the defense authorization bill is expected to take at least two weeks.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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