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Bush Signs $417B Defense Bill

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AP
President Bush signed a $417.5 billion wartime defense bill Thursday providing an additional $25 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, body armor for troops and reinforced Humvee vehicles.

"With this legislation America's military will know that their country stands behind them as they fight for our freedom and as they spread the peace," Mr. Bush said.

"No enemy or friend can doubt that America has the resources to prevail," he said. "And we will."

Overwhelmingly approved by a Congress eager to show election-year support for the military, the measure includes money for 39 more Army Black Hawk helicopters, a Virginia-class attack submarine, three guided-missile destroyers and a 3.5 percent pay increase for troops. "This money is well-earned, well-deserved and well-spent," he said of the pay increase.

With national security the top issue in his re-election campaign, Mr. Bush came off the political trail for the bill-signing ceremony, flanked by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, members of the military and lawmakers. The carefully timed event highlighted Mr. Bush's role as commander in chief, offering him a spotlight Democrat John Kerry cannot match.

With the ink on the measure barely dry, Mr. Bush was returning to the campaign trail for his 20th trip as president to Ohio.

Mr. Bush had originally insisted that no extra funds would be needed for Iraq and Afghanistan until after the elections but under pressure from Congress, he requested $25 billion. He said the two countries were "the front lines in the war on terror."

The bill has nearly $78 billion for weapons purchases, $3 billion more than Mr. Bush requested. Included is more money for Air Force unmanned Predator aerial attack vehicles, Stryker combat vehicles for the Army and a DD(X) destroyer.

There is $10 billion for continued work on a national missile defense system. And there is $100 million for the Air Force to modernize its fleet of midair refueling tankers — though House language was dropped requiring 80 of the craft to be purchased from the ailing Boeing Co.

"This bill will help make America a safer place," Mr. Bush said.

He also said it was in America's interest for Arab militia violence to end in the western Sudan region of Darfur. The defense bill could help, he said, with $95 million in famine relief and humanitarian assistance.

"Recent history has shown that the threats to our shores can emerge from failing states half a world away," Mr. Bush said. "By acting early to end a crisis, we can make our world safer."

He issued a new call for peace in Sudan.

"No amount of aid can substitute for true and lasting peace," Mr. Bush said. "The government of Sudan must stop the violence of the Janjaweed militias, and all parties must respect the cease-fire and allow the free movement of humanitarian workers and supplies."