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Bush Budget Has $585 Billion for Defense in 2009

President Bush's budget for next year, sent to the Congress for debate on Monday, includes more than half a trillion dollars in basic defense spending, and another $70 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and related operations, for about half of the year. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Under the president's plan, the Defense Department's budget increases about 5.5 percent, adjusted for inflation, compared to the current year. Defense Secretary Robert Gates offered a brief justification for the budget on Monday.

"The budget request provides the resources needed to prevail in current conflicts, while preparing the department for a range of challenges that our nation may face in the years ahead," said Robert Gates.

Secretary Gates also pointed out that the congress has not yet approved all the money for military operations this year, with $102 billion still pending. And he says although the raw numbers are high, U.S. spending on defense was much higher, as a percentage of the total U.S. economy, during previous wars.

There will be a lot of debate about the budget in the Congress, controlled by President Bush's political opponents in the Democratic Party. The top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, welcomes the debate.

"I think it needs to be informed by the environment and security risks that are out there, and what it's going to take to meet those security risks, which includes the full spectrum, from the kind of irregular warfare and terrorist threats that we have right now to the other end of the spectrum in terms of the conventional threats that are potentially emerging in the longer run," said Admiral Mullen.

Admiral Mullen believes the United States should spend at least four percent of its economic output on defense. Monday's proposal calls for a spending level of about 3.4 percent of total output, or Gross Domestic Product.

"I really do believe this four per cent floor is important," he said. "And it's really important given the world we're living in, given the threats that we see out there, the risks that are, in fact, global, not just in the Middle East. And we as a nation need to be very careful about how we're going to invest in defense in order to handle these kinds of challenges, which will persist for the foreseeable future."

Indeed, U.S. officials have been urging allies in Europe and elsewhere to increase their defense spending as a percentage of their total economic output.

In addition to $515 billion for the basic defense budget, the president's request includes $70 billion for the global war on terrorism, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is about half the money officials believe will be needed for the wars, but it will be up to the new administration that takes office next January to make its own war plans and ask the congress for the needed funds.

The Pentagon budget does not include about $21 billion the United States spends on its nuclear arsenal, which is in the Energy Department's budget.

The defense budget does include $750 million for training and equipping friendly foreign militaries and providing humanitarian assistance that the U.S. military delivers worldwide in times of crisis. A nearly $400-million budget is proposed for what will be the first year of full operations by the newly established Africa Command. The command will coordinate training programs and any other U.S. military operations in Africa, consolidating responsibilities now spread over three U.S. military commands.

There are also $10.5 - billion in the budget for the U.S. missile defense program, about a six-percent increase. The United States is building a missile defense capability in the Pacific, and wants to expand to Europe with facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, but negotiations with those countries have not been completed.

This defense budget for fiscal year 2009, which begins October first, also includes money to continue increasing the size of the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps by a total of about 65,000 troops during the next few years, which had already been announced, and to continue programs to upgrade weapons systems and develop new, high technology weapons and protective equipment. The budget also makes a commitment to continue increasing military salaries and improving benefits, including especially health care for wounded veterans, which has been criticized during the last year. Nearly $11 billion is allocated to recruit, train and retain troops with specialized skills, something that has been difficult because of the pace of combat operations in recent years.