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Bush launches drive to boost military morale, starting with pay hike

President Bush
Bush reviews troops Monday at Fort Stewart, Georgia, where he promised $1.4 billion in additional military pay raises.  

FORT STEWART, Georgia (CNN) -- President Bush, speaking before a full U.S. infantry division Monday, promised a fiscal 2002 Defense Department budget that would help boost military morale through pay hikes and infrastructure improvements.

Standing atop a reviewing stand on the Fort Stewart parade ground, Bush said his military budget for the next fiscal year would include "$5.7 billion in new spending for the people in our military." Of that, he said, $1.4 billion would be earmarked for a pay hike over and above the raises already locked into the federal budget.

Billions more, the president said, would be set aside for renewed training and for upgrades to buildings and barracks, many of which have been woefully neglected.

U.S. President George W. Bush visits Ft. Stewart, Georgia, as he begins a defense budget push. CNN's John King reports

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Of the $5.7 billion Bush mentioned, however, only the $1.4 billion for raises and upgrades to military housing represents actual new spending.

Congress approved the rest during the Clinton administration, $3.9 billion for health benefits and $400 million for housing projects. And $400 million of the pay increase is the final installment of a previously approved raise.

"The problems from low pay to poor housing reach across our military," Bush said. "It is ungrateful, unwise, and it is unacceptable. We owe you and your families a decent quality of life. We owe you training and equipment to do your jobs. And, when we put you in harm's way, we owe you a clear mission with clear goals."

Monday was a day of firsts for the president. Bush enjoyed his first flight on Air Force One, accompanied by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He also participated in his first military review, observing troops of the 3rd Infantry Division and the 48th Brigade of the Georgia National Guard.

The 3rd Infantry Division has a storied history and often is one of the Army's first units to be called during a rapid deployment.

"You've been called the most highly trained and rapidly deployable mechanized force in the world," Bush told the assembly.

"I know what your service and sacrifice achieve for our nation. In a world of fast-changing threats, you give us stability."

The short address was punctuated by hearty shouts of "Hoo-ahh" from the parade stands -- a rallying cry for 3rd Infantry Division troops and their families.

Bush toured the post's barracks, then had lunch with the troops before jetting back to Washington at mid-afternoon.

The president's proposed $1.4 billion pay raise would be in addition to the 4.6 percent across-the-board annual pay increase required by law. The 4.6 percent increase costs roughly $2 billion a year, according to a U.S. official who spoke earlier in the day.

The official, who did not want to be identified, said the Bush administration had not yet decided whether the $1.4 billion for additional pay raises would be an across-the-board increase or "targeted in some way."

Bush aides said the Clinton administration proposed $296 billion for the military for the fiscal year that begins in October. They said Bush is expected to propose $310 billion for the same period.

The roughly $15 billion above the Clinton proposal would pay for salary increases, improvements in housing, bonuses to keep men and women in the armed forces, and research and development, according to a senior Bush administration official. It would also accommodate inflation, the official said.

Dissent brewing

Bush, sticking to the defense strategy he outlined on the presidential campaign trail, has charged Rumsfeld with devising a complete review of Pentagon operations before he provides any emergency spending this fiscal year for the armed services, and before he sets in place his long-term goals to modernize tactics and weapon systems.

Some in Congress have criticized the president for not heeding warnings many bases and military units will be squeezed too tightly if they do not quickly receive a cash infusion.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff are asking for between $5 billion and $7 billion in extra money now to pay for military exercises, flying hours and spare parts.

"What [this] means is that the president decided to engage our brains rather than open the taxpayers' wallets immediately, and what he wants to do is to conduct a quick, prompt review," Rumsfeld said of the review on "FOX News Sunday."

"It's not going to take years, and it's not going to take days. It'll take some months. And then we will go back to the president with our recommendations as to what we believe are the priorities and what needs to be done," Rumsfeld said.

During the presidential campaign, Bush repeatedly charged the Clinton administration with ignoring defense needs, and told the military, "Help is on the way."

Last week Bush said he would not go to Congress to seek additional money for the Pentagon until a "top to bottom" review is completed.

Lieberman: Tax cut poses problem

Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who was No. 2 on last year's Democratic presidential ticket, scolded Bush on Monday for what he described as a clear conflict between two of the new president's most pressing campaign pledges -- tax cuts, and a reinvigoration of the U.S. military.

"The president has defended his choice not to increase the defense budget by saying he first wants to conduct a strategic review before making any decisions about spending levels," Lieberman said Monday afternoon.

"I support such a review," Lieberman continued. "But the reality is that we don't need the results of a strategic study to know that there are some pressing problems in our military that demand our attention and our assistance now."

More money is needed at once, Lieberman said, for spare parts, munitions and training.

"This is more than an issue of short-term spending," he said. "It is a question of long-held values."

Bush's push to shepherd $1.6 trillion in tax relief through Congress, Lieberman said, will "leave nothing but fiscal leftovers for national security."

Lieberman sent Bush a letter Monday afternoon asking him to reconsider the tax cut, until the military's pressing needs are attended to.

On Tuesday, Bush travels to Norfolk, Virginia, to talk about "transforming" the military, and modernizing its weapons and missions.

He will be in Charleston, West Virginia, on Wednesday to focus on the role of reservists.

He heads to the State Department on Thursday to highlight his commitment to pursue what he calls a "clear, consistent and decisive foreign policy."

The president rounds out the week with the first international trip of his presidency, a one-day visit to Mexico to meet with President Vicente Fox.

CNN's Kelly Wallace and Ian Christopher McCaleb contributed to this report.

Bill Schneider: The Bush Agenda
January 29, 2001
Bush to unveil $1 billion 'bonus' for military
February 12, 2001
Bush defense funding decision under fire
February 9, 2001

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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