BUSH takes message of more defense spending to American Legion convention

<br>SAN ANTONIO (AP) _ Unbowed by the latest bad budget news, President Bush ratcheted up the stakes for his military spending increases by painting a dark picture Wednesday of a vulnerable America. <br><br>``I

Wednesday, August 29th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

SAN ANTONIO (AP) _ Unbowed by the latest bad budget news, President Bush ratcheted up the stakes for his military spending increases by painting a dark picture Wednesday of a vulnerable America.

``I know this nation still has enemies and we cannot expect them to be idle,'' Bush said. ``Security is my first responsibility and I will not permit any course that leaves America undefended.''

He pledged to block any attempt to raise taxes to cope with the government's evaporating budget surplus.

The president used a speech to the 83rd annual convention of the American Legion to draw battle lines for the spending debate that awaits him in Washington when Congress returns from its August recess next week.

He said his priorities are new military and education funding, Medicare coverage for prescription drugs, new protections for HMO patients and passage of his initiative to give religious groups government social-services grants.

But new economic data suggest he can't have his tax cut, more defense spending and his domestic programs without tapping the Social Security reserves that he promised not to touch.

Bush did not address those numbers, released by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office earlier this week. Instead, he swatted at those he said are second-guessing the tax cuts that he pushed through Congress in May on mostly party-line votes.

``I presume those who now oppose tax relief are for raising your taxes,'' Bush said. ``That would tie an anchor on our economy and I can assure you I won't allow it.''

The convention, where first lady Laura Bush accepted a Women's Auxiliary award for her work with the nation's libraries, was the Bushes' last bit of business before they fly back to Washington on Thursday after 26 days away from the White House.

The budget landscape shifted dramatically while Bush was away.

New CBO economic projections put one of Bush's central campaign promises _ not to spend Social Security reserves _ to a politically perilous test.

The CBO forecasts that the government will tap $9 billion in Social Security reserves this year because Bush's tax cut and the general economic slowdown have shrunk the surplus in general revenues.

Ed Sarpolus, an independent pollster in Michigan, said Bush is in a position not unlike that which doomed his father, former President Bush, after he famously reneged on his ``read my lips'' tax pledge.

``This is haunting. This is the '80s all over again,'' said Sarpolus. ``He needs to shift the focus away from the fact that he broke his promise. He needs to scare Democrats _ and the public _ into believing that the military is in such bad shape that they have no choice but to dip into Social Security.''

For now, the White House denies that a problem exists. Bush's budget advisers point to their own, sunnier economic forecasts that the government will post a $1 billion surplus in its general revenues _ over and above the surplus in Social Security funds _ for this year and next.

Democrats, who control the Senate by one vote, aren't letting Bush off the hook and have shown no inkling to give him what he wants when they have spending priorities of their own.

Sarpolus said Bush is in for a rough autumn.

``Congress is going to ask him, `Which George Bush are you today? Are you the education president or the military president? Because he can't do both, not with this budget,'' the pollster said.

Before returning to his Crawford ranch for one last night on vacation, Bush was stopping at a dedication ceremony for the San Jose Grist Mill, which the National Park Service has restored as part of an educational exhibit on Spanish colonial life.

Bush's roundtrip flight on Wednesday will be the last mission as Air Force One for the Boeing 707 jet, tail number 727000, that was President Reagan's primary aircraft. At the San Antonio airport, Bush was participating in a retirement ceremony with past and present members of the crew that saw the 29-year-old aircraft through seven presidents, 444 missions and more than 1 million miles.

Nowadays the president normally flies aboard a Boeing 747, designated Air Force One when he is aboard.

The 707 is retiring to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., and its exhibit on presidential travel.

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