- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2001

MILWAUKEE — President Bush yesterday told Congress not to roll back the biggest military-spending increase since the Reagan administration, insisting the Pentagon needs the extra $39 billion for a missile-defense shield, pay raises, and better health care for veterans.
Addressing the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Mr. Bush appeared to be bracing for the Democrat-controlled Senate to slash military funding during the appropriations process, which begins next month. Democrats have been laying the groundwork by complaining that the president's tax reduction will cut so deeply into the federal surplus that there will be insufficient money to fund White House priorities.
"As we enter the appropriations process, I have great hopes, but no illusions," Mr. Bush told the veterans. "Washington has its own way of doing things, especially around the time of year when final appropriations are made.
"The spending bills are passed one after another — 13 in all. Everybody in Washington knows there's a budget, but new spending gets thrown in along the way. Finally, when it's time to pass the last bill, they realize they're just about to go over the budget.
"And often, and sadly, the final bill has been the defense-appropriations bill," he said. "Therefore, defense appropriations has gone without adequate funding."
Mr. Bush promised the VFW a year ago that he would restore funding for the military, which had declined so significantly during the Clinton years that thousands of service members were forced to subsist on food stamps. Yesterday, he called on Congress to stop putting service members last among the nation's priorities.
"That's the old way of doing business; that's old style of thinking," the president said. "I have a better idea: Let's abandon the old ways of gamesmanship, standoffs and government shutdowns.
"Let us keep our priorities straight and start with the things that matter most to our country's security and our country's future," he said. "This year, let us have responsible spending from Day One and put the national security and education of our children first in line when it comes to the appropriations process."
Mr. Bush's remarks drew an enthusiastic response, with the crowd interrupting him dozens of times with applause.
There is little chance that Congress will cut education funding below levels requested by Mr. Bush. The president earlier this year called for an 11 percent increase in education, and Senate Democrats responded by nearly doubling last year's funding.
Instead, it is military spending that has the White House worried. Mr. Bush has repeatedly promised better pay and benefits to service members, who overwhelmingly supported him in last year's election. Yesterday, he tried to put public pressure on Congress to stand firm behind the military during the appropriations process.
"I hope you all watch very carefully; it's important that people pay attention to what goes on in Washington," the president said. "It will be an interesting signal about the priorities of the leaders of the United States Congress when they let those appropriations bills out to come to my desk.
"I'm confident I can work with Congress on appropriations, because we've worked closely together on other issues," he added. "We saw bipartisan votes on the budget itself. And they passed and I signed and the mailman is delivering the first major income-tax relief in a generation."
Mr. Bush was preceded to the podium at the Milwaukee Convention Center by Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi, who is conducting a review of the 600,000 pending applications for medical benefits, including 53,000 that have been pending for over a year. He said he never again wants to report to the president that a veteran died while waiting for a medical-benefits claim to be processed.
Mr. Bush agreed.
"My administration understands America's obligations not only to go to those who wear the uniform today, but to those who wore the uniform in the past — to our veterans," the president said.
"Veterans in need of care have been kept waiting and thousands of veterans' claims have been delayed, or in some cases, lost in the bureaucracy. Many veterans have observed that the government seemed to work a lot more efficiently when it wanted something from them. When the draft board got your file, it worked efficiently.
"But now when you need health care, forms get lost and answers come late," he said. "That is no way to treat America's veterans. And that is going to change."

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