Bush Inks $401B Defense Bill

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, right, welcomes President Bush to the Pentagon for a bill signing ceremony, Monday, Nov. 24, 2003. Bush signed a $401.3 billion defense authorization bill that will fund the military as they continue operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
President Bush signed a $401.3 billion defense authorization bill Monday, saying members of the U.S. armed forces are facing "a great and historic task" in confronting and defeating the forces of terrorism.

"The stakes for our country could not be higher," the president said at a Pentagon ceremony. "We face enemies that measure their progress by the chaos they inflict, the fear they spread and the innocent lives they destroy."

"America's military is standing between our country and grave danger," he president proclaimed.

The massive military spending bill includes a salary and hazardous duty pay increase for troops.

Mr. Bush spoke before leaving town for a holiday week at his ranch in Texas. On the way, he made a stop at Fort Carson, Colo., where he will meet privately with families of some of the troops killed in the war, reports CBS News Correspondent Peter Maer.

Fort Carson has lost 27 soldiers in Iraq, including five this
month alone. Four victims were among 16 soldiers killed after their
helicopter was shot down Nov. 2 near Fallujah.

"We're standing for order and hope and democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq," the president said in Washington. "We're standing up for the for security of all free nations and for the advance of freedom. The American people and your commander in chief are grateful," Mr. Bush said, "and we will support you in all your central missions."

Mr. Bush was to have lunch at Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs, and visit with families of soldiers killed in Iraq. Families at Fort Carson, which has sent 12,000 troops to Iraq, generally have supported the war effort, but there have been voices of concern.

Harriet Johnson of Cordova, S.C., the mother of Spc. Darius T. Jennings, one of the Fort Carson soldiers who died in the crash of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter, said she was upset that Mr. Bush did not stop to speak with her family when he was in South Carolina earlier this month.

"I understand he may not be able to talk to each one of them direct," she said. "He was in my hometown. Something should have been said."

On the other hand, the stepfather of Marine Lance Cpl. Thomas Slocum, who was killed in Iraq on March 23, said he believes Mr. Bush takes responsibility for the U.S. casualties, which have topped 400. "If President Bush were go to every family, it would take too much of his time, and if he sees one, he has to see them all," said Stan Cooper of Thornton, Colo.

Among other things, the defense bill before him at the Pentagon:

  • Raises salaries for soldiers by an average of 4.15 percent, and extends increases in combat and family separation pay.
  • Calls for the Air Force to lease 20 Boeing 767 planes as in-flight refueling tankers and buy 80 more.
  • Partially overturns rules preventing disabled veterans from receiving some retirement pay as well as disability compensation.
  • Grants Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld increased control over 700,000 civilian employees. Pentagon officials said restrictions on hiring, firing and promoting employees forced them to use military personnel for jobs better suited for civilians. Democrats said the bill goes too far in stripping overtime guarantees and job protection rules.
  • Lifts a decade-old ban on research into low-yield nuclear weapons and authorizes $15 million for continued research into a powerful nuclear weapon capable of destroying deep underground bunkers.
  • Exempts the military to provisions of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Pentagon claimed environmental laws restrict training exercises; environmentalists said the laws have had little effect on training and that the exemptions go too far.

    The president ends the day at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he will observe Thanksgiving with family members.

    On Tuesday, he makes a day trip to Las Vegas for a campaign fund-raiser and a speech on Medicare at Spring Valley Hospital, followed by similar appearances in Phoenix.