- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2002

President Bush yesterday called for a $48 billion increase in military spending, the largest in two decades, even if it puts what he called "a strain on the budget."
Mr. Bush told a gathering of military reserve officers that rebuilding the armed forces, which had begun to atrophy during the Clinton era, will be the "first priority" of the budget he will submit to Congress on Feb. 4.
"The highest calling to protect the people is to strengthen the military," the president said at a Washington hotel. "And that will be the priority of the budget I submit to the United States Congress."
Although Democrats have been complaining that the upcoming budget will be the first in four years to run a deficit, Mr. Bush suggested that that is the price for "the tools of modern warfare." The defense budget would grow to about $380 billion if Congress approves those tools.
"They are expensive," the president said. "But in order to win this war against terror, they are essential.
"Buying these tools may put a strain on the budget," he added. "But we will not cut corners when it comes to the defense of our great land."
Asked whether Congress would approve the $48 billion increase, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said, "Well, I think it's too early to come to any conclusion about what the number ought to be."
The South Dakota Democrat also blamed the forthcoming deficit on the president's tax cuts enacted last year.
"We told you so," he said.
The budget, which the president will outline in his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday, also contains a major boost in spending for homeland security. This would allow the administration to complete the hiring of 30,000 new airport security workers.
"We'll hire an additional 300 FBI agents to help fight the war on terror," Mr. Bush said. "We'll ensure that state and local firemen and police and rescue workers are prepared for terrorism. And we will do more to secure our borders."
Some of the homeland defense funds are earmarked for the purchase of equipment to protect postal workers from anthrax. Others will fund research to fight bioterrorism. Still others will modernize public health laboratories so they can more effectively detect and treat outbreaks of disease.
The Bush budget's third priority will be an economic-stimulus package that has been stalled in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Although Mr. Daschle signaled in a meeting with the president yesterday morning that he was ready to extend unemployment benefits, the president made clear in his speech that those benefits must be coupled with tax cuts in order to spur job growth.
"You know, our country is united when it comes to fighting a war," he said. "We need to be united when it comes to battling recession as well.
"It's time to set aside all the politics, all the posturing, to figure out how to take care of workers whose lives were affected because of the attacks on 9/11. But as we do so, always remember that people may want an unemployment check to help them through tough times, but what they really want is a permanent paycheck.
"And therefore, jobs ought to be the central core of any economic development plan that we can run out of the United States Congress."
During his closed-door meeting with Mr. Daschle, which was also attended by other congressional leaders, Mr. Bush countered recent Democratic arguments that Republicans are trying to exploit the war for political purposes.
The accusations arose in the wake of comments made by Bush adviser Karl Rove during the Republican National Committee meeting in Austin, Texas, last week.
"I have no ambition whatsoever to use this as a political issue," Mr. Bush said, according to a senior White House official. "There is no daylight between the executive and the legislative branches."
The official said nobody challenged the comments of the president, who was sitting in front of Mr. Rove in the Cabinet Room.
Later yesterday, Mr. Bush signed legislation to grant tax breaks to the families of victims of the terrorist attacks last year, including those who died of anthrax. The Victims of Terrorism Tax Relief Act also covers victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.
"This is a small gesture compared to the overwhelming generosity of the American people in times of tragedy," Mr. Bush said in the East Room of the White House, where he was surrounded by the families of victims. "Yet this will help to extend that generosity, because it exempts payments from charities to victims' families from federal taxes."
The speech yesterday to the military reserve officers was viewed as a warm-up to the president's first State of the Union address. Mr. Bush used the occasion to warn Congress that "there will be no room for misunderstanding" when he asks for more military funding.
"Those who review our budget must understand that we are asking a lot of our men and women in uniform, and we'll be asking more of them in the future," the president said. "In return, they deserve every resource, every weapon needed to achieve the final and full victory."
He added, "We will invest in more precision weapons, in missile defenses, in unmanned vehicles, in high-tech equipment for soldiers on the ground."

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