Bush calls on Congress to send him defense budget by early September

Thursday, August 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Trying to keep pressure on Congress, President Bush says lawmakers should send him a final defense bill soon after returning from their summer recess in early September.

The Senate voted 95-3 on Thursday to approve a $355.4 billion military package for next year. The measure would provide a $34.4 billion boost over this year's total, underlining the bipartisan support for strengthening the military following the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Democratic-led Senate acted after repeated calls by Bush for it to finish its work before leaving at week's end for the August break. The House passed a similar measure in late June, setting up negotiations between the chambers when they return after Labor Day.

``With our nation at war, it is imperative that we address the important priority of ensuring that our troops have the resources they need,'' Bush said in a written statement after the Senate vote.

September will be just when campaigns are heating up for this November's elections, in which control of the Senate and House are at stake. Congress will also tackle the 12 other spending bills for the federal budget year that starts Oct. 1, but Democrats don't want to give Republicans a target by moving slowly on the defense package.

``The defense of our nation is too important to be a matter of partisan politics,'' said Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, a chief author of the measure.

The bill sprinkles extra money for counterterrorism throughout its research, procurement and operations programs. Money was included to prepare for attacks against Army bases and for software to help troops in the field translate foreign languages.

The measure looks to the future by providing $6.9 billion for Bush's plans for developing a national system for shooting down incoming missiles. In a provision the president opposes, it would let him devote another $814 million to either missile defense _ bringing the total to his full request _ or fighting terrorism.

But it also looks backward. It contains $12 million for the Defense Department's legacy program, which includes efforts to recover sunken vessels including the ironclad Monitor and the Confederate sloop Alabama.

Like the House's companion bill, the legislation denies Bush the $10 billion contingency fund he proposed for the battle against terrorism.

The president wants to spend the money on his own, but members of both parties are reluctant to forfeit their input. Congress may decide to provide the money later, probably with some strings attached.

As always, the bill is filled with projects destined for the home states of various lawmakers.

Inouye said the measure would steer at least $537 million to Hawaii, including more than $30 million for the Navy's Pearl Harbor shipyard and $3 million for corrosion research at the University of Hawaii.

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., won $8 million for work by Quantum Leap Innovations, a company in Newark, Del., on equipment for the Navy to detect biological and chemical threats.

Lawmakers asserted themselves by approving more than Bush sought for C-17 cargo aircraft for the Air Force, KC-130J refueling planes for the Navy and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters for the Army.

Purchases of 23 F-22 stealth fighters for the Air Force and 11 V-22 tilt rotor Ospreys for the Air Force and Marines would also continue.

The bill provides $417 million Bush requested to help the former Soviet states dismantle and protect their nuclear weapons. And it would shift funds from the now discontinued Crusader artillery system to other programs where long-range weapons are being designed.

There also would be funds for a 4.1 percent military pay raise, which Bush proposed.

Opposing the bill were Sens. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., John McCain, R-Ariz., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio.