President Bush urges support for military spending increase during Air Force base stop

Monday, February 4th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Florida (AP) _ On the day he submitted his new budget to Congress, President Bush called on lawmakers to rally behind his $48 billion increase for the Pentagon just as they've supported him in the war on terrorists.

``We're unified in Washington on winning this war,'' Bush told military personnel. ``One way to express our unity is for Congress to set the military budget and the defense of the United States as the No. 1 priority and fully fund my request.''

For his tough-talking speech to promote his defense budget, Bush wore a leather bomber jacket with an American flag patch stitched over his heart. Air Force personnel in camouflage fatigues _ and their families _ welcomed him into a hangar with a deafening cheer.

Back in Washington, lawmakers began pouring through the four-volume, $2.12 trillion spending plan that Bush formally submitted on Monday. In it, he asked Congress for a $48 billion increase in Pentagon spending. The money would build new high-tech weapons and equipment as well as improve military salaries and health benefits.

The successful campaign in Afghanistan proved the value of precision weapons, not only in defeating the enemy but in sparing innocent lives, Bush said. ``And the budget I submit makes it clear we need more of them.''

``We need to be agile, quick to move. We need to be able to send our troops on the battlefields in places that many of us never thought there would be a battlefield. We need to replace aging aircraft and get ready to be able to defend freedom with the best equipment possible,'' he added.

Bush said the Sept. 11 terrorists were getting more than they perhaps bargained for when they struck the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

``When you strike one American, you strike all Americans, and you can expect to hear from us,'' Bush said.

Now that U.S. forces have ousted Afghanistan's terrorist-allied Taliban, Bush said the next step is to ``run down the al-Qaida and the rest of the terrorists and maybe give 'em a free trip to Guantanamo Bay.''

At the president's side on this trip was his younger brother, the campaigning Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

``I always enjoy coming to states that have a great governor. Enough said,'' the elder Bush told the crowd.

Eglin serves as headquarters for the Air Armament Center, which develops, tests and maintains all of the Air Force's air-delivered weapons, including those used in Afghanistan.

``You've given the terrorists around the world the first glimpse at their fate,'' Bush said.

Perhaps more important to the White House's selection of this venue, Eglin sits on the Florida panhandle where a fully mobilized conservative base will be crucial to Gov. Bush's re-election bid come November.

Monday's visit was the second taxpayer-funded Florida trip for the president in four days. Last Thursday, he made a campaign-style appearance with Jeb Bush before Daytona Beach senior citizens.

Given Florida's decisive role in Campaign 2000, reporters asked White House press secretary Ari Fleischer if Bush's frequent trips here also had something to do with laying groundwork for his own 2004 re-election.

``No, I think it's fair to say that as this election year begins the president will be helpful to Republican candidates on the state level, federal level,'' Fleischer replied.