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WASHINGTON — Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have promised that a top priority next year will be finding more funding to repair and replace military equipment damaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last month Congress approved about $70 billion bridge fund for combat operations there next year, in an effort to anticipate the financial needs of the Army and Marines. But much of that money is designed to cover current costs, not long-term programs to buy new vehicles, guns and communication gear.

Earlier this year, Army and Marines estimates put the cost of equipment damaged by the ongoing fighting and harsh desert environments at more than $30 billion combined.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said publicly this week one of the top priorities of his chamber next year will be to provide for an additional $75 billion to reset those combat units.

“He can’t say it will be the first issue, but it’s something that needs to be addressed quickly by the new Senate,” said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.

Manley could not say whether the money would be part of another general supplemental request by the Defense Department — Congress has approved nine supplemental budgets since 2001 — or a completely separate funding stream.

Democratic officials in the House have backed more reset money as well, although they have not yet committed to a total.

Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., is expected to be the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and has said he wants to hold hearings with military and financial experts before moving ahead on the issue.

In a news conference last week, he said the ongoing fighting in Iraq has left the military “dangerously stretched thin” and said the overall readiness of the armed forces needs to be scrutinized by the new Congress.

Both chambers said the money is needed regardless of any decisions made on troop withdrawals from Iraq.


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