- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 5, 2004

President Bush yesterday signed a $417 billion wartime defense bill that includes another $25 billion for troops and equipment for Iraq and Afghanistan, declaring that “no enemy or friend can doubt that America has the resources to prevail.”

“With this legislation, America’s military will know that their country stands behind them as they fight for our freedom and as they spread the peace,” Mr. Bush said in a bill-signing ceremony attended by top military brass, along with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican.

The expansive bill includes a 3.5 percent pay increase for troops, bringing the total pay increase for the military to 21 percent since Mr. Bush took office.

“This money is well-earned, well-deserved and well-spent,” Mr. Bush said in the Old Executive Office Building.

The legislation was approved by a large margin in Congress and includes billions to buy 39 more Army Black Hawk helicopters, a Virginia-class attack submarine and three guided-missile destroyers. The bill includes nearly $80 billion to buy weapons, including new unmanned Predator aerial-attack vehicles and Stryker combat vehicles.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s campaign criticized Mr. Bush’s actions, charging that he is not fully committed to America’s armed forces.

“With this as in so many other areas, the results don’t match Bush’s rhetoric,” said campaign spokesman Phil Singer.

“If he really wanted to fulfill America’s commitment to our armed forces, he would have provided them with the body armor, armored vehicles and tools they needed on the battlefield. He would have made sure we had a plan to win the peace in Iraq, and he would have made sure we didn’t overextend our troops,” Mr. Singer said.

The Bush-Cheney campaign fired back, saying the Massachusetts senator is playing politics with the U.S. military.

Spokesman Steve Schmidt cited a recent New Yorker article, in which Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, and “an unnamed Kerry adviser” said Mr. Kerry’s vote against the troops was based on former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s threat to his presidential candidacy.

“The fact that Kerry would vote against our troops for political benefit raises serious questions about his credibility and his ability to lead our nation in the war on terror,” Mr. Schmidt said.

The campaign said Mr. Kerry has voted at least a dozen times against higher pay for the military; opposed a bill that included $4.3 billion for military family housing; and was one of only four senators who voted for the use of force in Iraq but opposed an $87 billion funding bill. Another was his running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

In his speech yesterday, Mr. Bush also touted $10 billion in the new legislation for continued work on a national missile-defense system.

“America and our allies face a deadly threat from ballistic missiles armed with the world’s most dangerous weapons. And we will deploy the technologies necessary to protect our people,” he said.

Mr. Bush also said it was in America’s best interest to end violence in the western Sudan region of Darfur. The defense bill will help, he said, with $95 million in famine relief and humanitarian assistance.

“Recent history has shown that the threats to our shores can emerge from failing states half a world away. By acting early to end a crisis, we can make our world safer,” the president said.

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