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CNN Today

Bush Decides Against Immediate Increase in Defense Spending

Aired February 9, 2001 - 2:12 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Mixed signals from President Bush today on his campaign promise to strengthen the U.S. military. Today the president ordered an extensive review of the Pentagon but, at the same time, Mr. Bush said he will not support a quick infusion of cash for military readiness.

We get more about this now from CNN's Major Garrett, who's at the White House -- Major.

MAJOR GARRETT, ANN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good afternoon Natalie.

That topic likely to dominate, or at least be a part of the White House briefing, which is to begin any moment. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer likely to take questions on that subject.

For his part, President Bush just recently departed the White House, flying aboard Marine One for a weekend getaway to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. Earlier today the president went to an elementary school in the District of Columbia to highlight a couple of issues. One, black history month; the White House wants to continue its outreach to African-Americans. They added this event to begin that process, at least, or continue it, this week.

Also, the president wanted to highlight some of his education initiatives. After reading a book to the students at that elementary school, he took a few questions addressing this issue of this apparent conflict between some campaign statements the president made as a candidate, saying that help would be on the way as soon as he arrived at the White House, and this order today saying there should be a top- to-bottom review, but that no money would be coming right away -- no new money, at least, would be coming to the Pentagon.

Here's what the president had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have said during the campaign, I have said since I've been sworn in, it's important for us to do a top-to-bottom review; to review all missions, spending priorities, and that's exactly what the secretary of defense is going to do. And before people jump to conclusions, I think it's important to get that review finished.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARRETT: Senior White House aides also tell CNN that before anyone at the Pentagon or in Congress jumps to any conclusions, they should wait to hear what the president has to say next week.

Next week is devoted to defense issues. The president is taking three trips; White House officials tell CNN the president tends to make some news that very well could make some people at the Pentagon who feel disappointed today a little bit happier next week.

Also, there was an event over at the State Department today where Secretary of State Colin Powell announced his first international trip. That will begin on February 23; it's an extensive one. The secretary of state will travel to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, Jordan, Kuwait to acknowledge the 10th anniversary of Desert Storm and the victory there, which he was a big part of as leader of the military joint chiefs of staff, and also to a meeting in Brussels with NATO ministers.

Clearly, a big [art of that trip is to deal with the Middle East; the secretary of state saying he intends to meet not only with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, but Ehud Barak, if he is still the prime minister of Israel, and the new prime minister-elect of Israel, Ariel Sharon -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And Major, the tax plan that President Bush would like to see passed is now in the hands of Congress, working on that; any Republican resistance to it?

GARRETT: A little bit of Republican resistance was detected yesterday in the Senate side. Now, the Senate is divided 50-50, so every single Republican vote counts. Among those offering a little bit of push-back on the size of that tax cut, James Jeffords, who is a member of the Finance Committee, which will write that bill for the Senate. He is a Vermont Republican. To his mind, that $1.6 trillion figure over 10 years is a bit too high.

A couple of other moderate Republicans have expressed some displeasure, saying it's a bit too high. What they're going to look for is how this entire tax plan fits into the entire budget. They want to make sure there's money left over for Social Security, perhaps a Medicare prescription drug benefit, an increase in defense spending down the road, which now appears likely, even though the president said there won't be an immediate infusion of cash right now. They want to see how all those budget figures add up before they sign on -- Natalie.

ALLEN: OK, thanks for the latest; Major Garrett at the White House.

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