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Defense bill free of major conflicts

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KAI RYSSDAL: On the other side of the Capitol Rotunda, Senators were debating a huge defense spending bill for the fiscal year that began yesterday. Big as it is — at nearly $460 billion — it’s got not a dime for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democratic leaders decided to postpone that particular debate until Congress takes up the Pentagon’s supplemental request later this year.

Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports now that it’s free of political friction, the rest of the Pentagon’s budget should be a relatively easy sell.

JOHN DIMSDALE: Congress looks likely to approve a Pentagon budget that is $3 billion less than what the President requested. There will be less money for missile defense systems and some reductions for Navy combat and transport ships that have been plagued by cost overruns. But military budget expert Gordon Adams says Congress is raising the President’s request for veteran’s health care and troop salaries.

GORDON ADAMS: The Democratic Congress is determined not to appear any less supportive of the men and women of America’s armed forces than the preceding Congresses. They’re not going to look like they’re short-shirting the troops when they’re deployed in the field.

The Senate has authorized an extra $23 billion for mine-resistant armored vehicles for Iraq, which will be a windfall for eight manufacturers from Navistar to General Dynamics to Britain’s BAE Systems. The Lexington Institute’s Dan Goure says the Pentagon is hoping to get delivery of 4,000 of the vehicles by the end of the year. But:

DAN GOURE: It may only get half that number, and having to do things like go overseas for the steel and transmissions and such — because that many heavy-duty vehicles and transmissions and engines is a very tough thing to do quickly in this system.

At the beginning of the year, Democrats promised more congressional scrutiny of the war’s costs, by considering the president’s requests along with the rest of the defense budget. Leaders gave up on that plan last week. They now expect to take up a separate $190 billion war supplemental bill — a 17 percent increase over last year.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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