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PRESIDENT pushes defense spending bill

Updated:

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The United States needs a $32.6 billion increase in defense spending to improve training, readiness and quality of life for U.S. troops following a period of neglect, President Bush said Saturday.

``For too many years, our strength has dwindled,'' he said.

In his weekly radio address, Bush said the increase he is seeking for the Defense Department is sorely needed.

The president said the soldiers of today are sorely underpaid for upholding the same principles as those who gave or risked their lives more than 200 years ago in Revolutionary War battles.

``We owe them the same appreciation that we feel for the soldiers of Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and Yorktown,'' Bush said. ``We owe them fair salaries, first-class health benefits and decent housing.''

Bush's proposal has met skepticism on Capitol Hill, where many lawmakers say it lacks support for grand-scale modernization efforts the president has promised, and that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld blindsided them with some of his proposed cuts _ in B-1B bombers flown by Air National Guard units, in MX nuclear missiles and in military bases.

Bush did not provide details on his priorities Saturday, beyond ``better pay, better housing and better health care for our armed forces.'' The rest, he said, must await completion of Rumsfeld's top-to-bottom review of the armed forces.

``It's time for fresh thinking and rapid change in our national defense, to prepare for challenges that are changing just as quickly,'' Bush said. ``My budget priorities reflect the pride I feel in the outstanding people who serve and protect us all.''

The administration has proposed a $328.9 billion Pentagon budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. It represents a $32.6 billion increase over this year's budget and is $18.4 billion more than Bush had proposed in February.
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