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Bush Wants $48 Billion More for Defense

Wednesday, 23 January 2002 12:00 AM

"Next week I will go before Congress to lay out my priorities for the coming year. There will be no room for misunderstanding," Bush told members of the Reserve Officers Association. "The most basic commitment of our government will be the security of our country."

Bush gave the audience a glimpse of his fiscal year 2003 federal budget and an update on the war on terrorism.

"We will invest in more precision weapons, in missile defenses, in unmanned vehicles, in high-tech equipment for soldiers on the ground. The tools of modern warfare are effective. They are expensive," Bush said. "But in order to win this war against terror, they are essential."

The Bush White House has made the war against terrorism, foreign and domestic, a critical part of its agenda since the Sept. 11 attacks on America. The attacks prompted a U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan that toppled the country's Taliban regime in November.

The Taliban had refused to hand over members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, including its fugitive leader, Osama bin Laden. Washington blames bin Laden for masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks.

In the weeks after he assumed office, Bush embarked on an ambitious tour of the nation's military bases, rallying troops and promising them pay increases, improved housing and better equipment. He then asked Congress for $328.9 billion in discretionary budget authority for the Department of Defense, $32.6 billion higher than the $296.3 billion approved by Congress in 2001.

Earlier this month, Bush signed this year's defense spending bill. The emergency supplemental bill added another $3.5 billion to the new amount. It provided up to 15 percent in pay increases for service members, an average increase of 6.9 percent. It also fully funded health care for active-duty members and their families and provided $3.9 billion for health benefits for military retirees over age 65 and their families.

Bush said his second budget priority would be an increase in spending for homeland security, particularly airports. It was from four U.S. airports that the suicide hijackers commandeered three commercial passenger jets and steered them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth airliner crashed in western Pennsylvania.

"The federal government has already acted quickly to increase the number of sky marshals, to support the largest criminal investigation in U.S. history, to acquire antibiotics for large-scale treatment of anthrax, to deploy hundreds of Coast Guard cutters and aircraft and small boats to patrol ports, and to station 8,000 National Guardsmen in the nation's airports," Bush said.

"All this came in response to a sudden emergency. Now we must undertake a sustained strategy for homeland defense."

In the budget request for 2003, Bush said he would seek to complete hiring 30,000 federal airport security workers, hire 300 FBI agents and buy equipment to improve the safety of mail, and protect postal workers.

In October, employees from the postal system, federal government buildings and news organizations were exposed to anthrax-tainted mail. Four people died from the inhalation form of the pathogen.

"We'll begin a major program of research to combat the threat of bioterrorism. We'll modernize public health labs throughout the country, improving their capacity to detect and treat outbreaks of disease," Bush said. "We will ensure that state and local firemen and police and rescue workers are prepared for terrorism. And we will do more to secure our borders."

Republican and Democrat lawmakers were expected to support Bush's defense proposals as a part of the war on terrorism.

"We talked about some of the things that we've been able to achieve together, through partnership - bipartisan, bicameral, with the president. We've pursued this war on terrorism, I think, in a way that - we've stood shoulder to shoulder," said House Speaker Denis J. Hastert, R-Ill., after a meeting Wednesday with Bush. "We hope that we can be able to do it."

Senate plurality leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., echoed Hastert's sentiments.

"A new year brings a new opportunity to start over," he said. "We're going to do that and work in, hopefully, a very positive and a bipartisan spirit."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Next week I will go before Congress to lay out my priorities for the coming year. There will be no room for misunderstanding, Bush told members of the Reserve Officers Association. The most basic commitment of our government will be the security of our country. Bush...
Wednesday, 23 January 2002 12:00 AM
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