Bush calls for $50 billion for war on terrorism, talks economic compromise with congressional leaders

Wednesday, January 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President George W. Bush called Wednesday for nearly dlrs 50 billion in additional military spending for the war on terrorism, the largest increase for the Department of Defense in two decades.

Privately, he assured Republican and Democratic leaders that he has ``no ambition whatsoever'' to exploit the war on terrorism for political gain in this election year.

With his chief political strategist, Karl Rove, seated behind him in the Cabinet Room, Bush gave House and Senate leaders an update on the fight against terrorists and added: ``I have no ambition whatsoever to use this as a political issue. There is no daylight between the executive and the legislative branches.''

No one in the room for the closed-door morning meeting responded, according to congressional and White House sources who related the scene to The Associated Press.

Rove had caused a stir among Democrats last week when he told a Republican conference that the party would do well to talk up the popular war in this year's midterm elections.

In an address to the Reserve Officers Association, Bush gave the first details of the dlrs 2 trillion budget that Bush submits to Congress on Feb. 4.

That spending plan will ask Congress to give the Pentagon an increase of dlrs 48 billion, bringing its budget within range of dlrs 380 billion. If approved by the House and Senate the funds would amount to the largest increase in military spending in 20 years, Bush said.

The extra money would give service personnel another pay raise, acquire more precision weapons and build missile defenses. ``Buying these tools may put a strain on the budget but we will not cut corners when it comes to the defense of our great land,'' Bush said to cheers from the Reserve officers.

To keep Americans safe from terrorists here at home, Bush said his budget will also call for hiring 30,000 airport security workers and an additional 300 FBI agents, buying new equipment to improve mail safety, and beefing up research on bioterror threats.

For the budget year beginning on Oct. 1, Bush is expected to request roughly double the current dlrs 13 billion for homeland security, a spending item that did not exist a year ago.

The budget is expected to be in deficit for the first time in four years _ by just over dlrs 100 billion for this year and about dlrs 80 billion for 2003.

To address the recession, which Bush blames for the return to deficits, lawmakers emerged from their White House meeting and expressed commitment on both sides to a compromise economic package.

Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott told reporters in the White House driveway that the middle-ground plan offered by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has potential to break the long partisan stalemate over how to boost the economy and help millions of unemployed Americans.

``It is a focus of our attention. It's a process that could get us into considering the bill and reaching a conclusion,'' said Lott.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert agreed, for the most part.

``We made a commitment to at least start the discussion and try to work things out. I'm committed and I think other leaders are that we need some type of a stimulus package,'' said Hastert.

Daschle, who for much of the holiday recess was locked in a long-distance war of words with the White House over economic policy, suggested detente was in the works.