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Bush For The Defense

President Bush curried support for higher military spending among rank-and-file soldiers integral to the war in Afghanistan, urging Congress to make the extra funds "the first order of business so we can plan this war."

Before a crowd of civilians and soldiers in the Cumberland County Arena — where a new graduating class of Green Berets were honored just days ago — Mr. Bush said the United States is entering the second phase of "a tireless, relentless campaign" against terrorism worldwide, and will need both the patience and support of the American people to carry it out.

With the House preparing to vote on next year's target budget, the president used a visit to Fort Bragg, N.C., to call attention to his plan to raise defense spending by $48 billion to $379 billion, the largest increase in two decades.

"Nothing is more important than the national security of our country. So nothing is more important than our defense budget," he said. "The price for freedom is high, but it's never too high as far as I'm concerned."

He decried a routine congressional practice of taking up the defense money bill in the waning days of the fiscal year, saying, "That's bad budgeting practices in times of peace. It's really bad budgeting practices in times of war."

He said he expects lawmakers to make the defense budget "the first order of business so we can plan for this war."

Mr. Bush has proposed using the extra money to give service personnel pay raises, acquire more high-tech precision weapons and build missile defenses.

He also offered an update to local residents on the war against terror and thanked servicemen and women from Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base for their contributions. He noted two soldiers from the area were killed recently in Afghanistan: Air Force Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman, 36, and Army Chief Warrant Officer Stanley L. Harriman, 34.

"I want the families to know that we pray with them, that we honor them, and they died in a just cause," Mr. Bush said.

The president was to have lunch with troops and see a tactical demonstration of training exercises by the special operations forces headquartered at Fort Bragg.

His visit with the commando forces, which are largely credited with U.S. success against terrorist targets in Afghanistan, comes days before Republicans try to push their $2.1 trillion election-year budget through the full House.

The spending blueprint for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, which gives Mr. Bush nearly everything he wanted for the Pentagon, passed the House Budget Committee on a mostly party-line vote of 23 to 18.

In what is becoming a standard feature of his trips, Mr. Bush also was promoting his national-service challenge to Americans by meeting with Jane Davis, a registered nurse, Red Cross volunteer and Fort Bragg wife who recently returned from working at the site of the World Trade Center attacks.