WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush returned to the crash-scarred Pentagon Thursday and signed a spending bill that devotes billions of dollars to improving the nation's military and fighting the war against terrorism.
The defense bill Bush signed sets aside $318 billion for Defense Department operations in the budget year that began Oct. 1. It also contains another $20 billion for the military campaign in Afghanistan and recovery from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Bush said the bill ``makes a down payment on a central commitment: We will give our forces everything they need to defeat global terror.''
Congress approved the legislation last month, after weeks of butting heads with Bush over how to use federal resources to combat terrorism. The president is expected to seek billions more for domestic security in the 2003 budget he will submit to Congress next month.
``I look forward to working for next year's budget, with the priorities of winning this war and defending our homeland,'' Bush said. ``I'm confident the spirit that prevailed in late fall will spill over this year as we continue to remember the great goals that face this nation.''
The anti-terrorism package provided less for the Pentagon than Bush wanted, but more for domestic security and New York, Virginia and other communities where the terrorists struck. In terms of overall military needs, the bill allotted $30 billion more than in fiscal 2001, Bush said.
But even more important than those numbers were the priorities the bill reflects, Bush said. He noted that it reduces from 15 percent to 11 percent the amount of money that service members must pay out of pocket for their housing, with a goal of eliminating that cost altogether by 2005.
``We can never pay our men and women in uniform on a scale that matches the magnitude of their sacrifice,'' Bush told the crowd of 200, most of them in uniform, in a Pentagon auditorium. ``But this bill reflects our respect for your selfless service.''
The measure also includes funds for hiring more Customs Service inspectors, countering bioterrorism, hiring sky marshals and strengthening cockpit doors, bolstering security at the Capitol and reimbursing law enforcement agencies that responded to the Sept. 11 plane crashes.
``This nation must have, and will have, ready forces that can bring victory to our country and safety to our people,'' Bush said. ``This nation must give our military the weapons it needs to meet the threats of our future.''