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Bush Signs $401 Billion Defense Bill 1 hour, 23 minutes ago Add Top Stories - AP to My Yahoo!
By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - President Bush (news - web sites) 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.
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Bush Signs $401 Billion Defense Bill (AP Video)
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"The stakes for our country could not be higher," the president said at a Pentagon (news - web sites) 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 proclaimed.
Bush spoke before leaving town for a holiday week at his ranch. On the way to Texas, Bush was stopping in Colorado at Fort Carson, home to four of the 16 soldiers killed Nov. 2 when a helicopter was shot down in the dangerous Sunni Triangle near Fallujah, Iraq (news - web sites). Fort Carson has sent 12,000 troops to Iraq, its largest deployment since World War II.
"We're standing for order and hope and democracy in Afghanistan (news - web sites) and Iraq," the president said. "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," he said, "and we will support you in all your central missions."
At Fort Carson, he was to have lunch with soldiers, meet privately with families of some who have died and speak about the situation in Iraq, where on Sunday two U.S. troops were killed and then pummeled with concrete blocks and a soldier traveling in a convoy was killed by a roadside bomb.
U.S. policies in Iraq are a major political vulnerability for Bush in the 2004 election season.
After months in which more than half of Americans approved of the president's handling of Iraq, a recent CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll showed disapproval at 54 percent and approval at 45 percent. Other polls find the public evenly divided on that question.
Public approval of Bush's handling of the economy, meanwhile, has increased recently with positive news on that front.
Families at Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs, 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 four Fort Carson soldiers who died in the crash of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter, said she was upset that 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 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.
"in times of widespread chaos and confusion, it has been the duty of more advanced human beings - artists, scientists, clowns, and philosophers - to create order. In such times as ours however, when there is too much order, too much m management, too much programming and control, it becomes the duty of superior men and women and women to fling their favorite monkey wrenches into the machinery. To relieve the repression of the human spirit, they must sow doubt and disruption"
"People do it every day, they talk to themselves ... they see themselves as they'd like to be, they don't have the courage you have, to just run with it."
Quote: "America's military is standing between our country and grave danger," he proclaimed.
No, military spending is standing between spiraling debt and prosperity.
Quote: 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.