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President to seek $419b in defense spending

WASHINGTON -- President Bush will ask Congress for $419.3 billion for the Pentagon for next year, 4.8 percent more than this year's spending as the administration seeks to beef up and reshape the Army and Marine Corps for fighting terrorism.

The request will not include money for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress already has appropriated $25 billion for those this year, and the White House is planning soon to request $80 billion more.

Bush plans to roll out his military spending proposal Monday as part of a roughly $2.5 trillion overall federal budget. But documents obtained by the Associated Press yesterday show that he will request $19.2 billion more for the Defense Department than its $400.1 billion budget this year.

But his request is $3.4 billion below the $422.7 billion the Pentagon estimated in January that it would need for next year.

The proposal will include restructuring and expanding the Army and adding combat and support units for the Marine Corps. It reflects Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's efforts to transform the Cold War-style military into one that is more rapidly deployable to fight terrorist groups.

Under Bush's plan, defense spending would grow gradually, hitting $502.3 billion by 2011.

The proposal, according to one of the documents, supports the war on terrorism by "strengthening US defense capabilities and keeping US forces combat-ready. It continues to implement lessons learned from ongoing operations in the war."

Those include "the need for flexible and adaptable joint military, strong special operations forces, highly responsive logistics, and the best possible intelligence and communications capabilities."

The plan calls for special operations forces, which the documents described as "critical to the fight against terrorism," to add 1,200 troops and the forces would get $50 million to keep them from leaving the services.

Bush also wants Congress to let him spend $750 million as he chooses to help Iraq, Afghanistan, and US allies opposing terrorism bolster their military and security forces. In the past, legislators have proved reluctant to give Bush unfettered control of such funds but have generally complied.

Overall, the proposal calls for the Navy, Marines, and Air Force to receive extra funds next year, but the Army's budget would take a $300 million reduction to $100 billion although it is bearing the brunt of the costs and fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the $80 billion Bush plans to request in the coming days for Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to be tilted heavily toward the Army.

Bush plans to propose $1.6 billion to fight chemical and biological threats next year and $9.9 billion over the next five years. He also would allocate $9.5 billion for homeland security activities next year and $147.8 billion for training, maintenance, and other "readiness" programs.

Despite the overall military increase, the Pentagon's account for buying new weapons actually would incur a $100 million cut next year to $78 billion. The proposal underscores how huge federal deficits are affecting even the Defense Department, long one of Bush's top priorities.

More than half the total defense increase -- $10.8 billion -- would be for training, maintenance, and other costs associated with keeping the military ready for action.

Most of the rest would go for military salaries and construction of bases and housing.

Bush, according to the documents, will seek $8.8 billion for its missile defense program, compared with $9.9 billion this year.

The documents also showed that he would ask for $695.7 million for the Chinook helicopter for next year, compared with $869.8 million for this year. The B-2 stealth bomber would get $344.3 million, down from $365 million this year.

The proposal calls for increasing military base salaries by 3.1 percent and civilian salaries by 2.3 percent. It also calls for giving troops more money for housing and giving reservists better healthcare coverage and additional education benefits.

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