Bush pushes for improved veterans' education, health care

AUSTIN, Texas - Seeking to slow Al Gore's post-convention surge, George W. Bush is taking multiple swings at the Clinton administration on military affairs, proposing to spend $1.3 billion on pay raises, schools, and veterans' health care.

''A volunteer military has only two paths. It can lower its standards to fill its ranks. Or it can inspire the best and brightest to join and stay,'' Bush said in remarks prepared for delivery Monday in Milwaukee at the start of a two-day campaign swing through Wisconsin and Iowa.

In addition, he was pledging ''orderly and timely'' withdrawal of troops from Bosnia and Kosovo, saying the administration has committed the nation to military confrontations that lack a direct national interest.

Military affairs is a Republican strength, and Bush as the GOP presidential nominee has striven to prove his competence in this area after facing questions about whether he possesses the knowledge and experience to lead the nation in times of conflict.

With an eye toward locking in a healthy lead by Labor Day, Bush is turning toward this policy area as Vice President Gore closes the Texas governor's lead.

A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll released Sunday had Gore at 47 percent, Bush at 46 percent, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader at 3 percent and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan at 2 percent.

The poll of 697 likely voters taken Friday and Saturday had an error margin of 4 percentage points. That same poll right before the convention showed Bush 16 points ahead of Gore, 55 percent to 39 percent.

Backed up by a pair of new commercials, Bush and running mate Dick Cheney plan to visit a dozen battleground states between now and the traditional start of the campaign season in two weeks.

Though the ads focus on education, Bush's top legislative priority, military readiness has been a consistent drumbeat of his campaign, with one night of the GOP convention dedicated in part to war heroes and veterans of Cold War diplomacy who are backing his White House bid.

The proposals Bush was releasing Monday include:

-Increasing military pay raises by $1 billion - or about $750 per active-duty service member - over the $75.8 billion increase President Clinton signed into law this month. Bush also promises to boost targeted re-enlistment bonuses and the pay of specialists such as pilots, computer programmers and engineers

-Provide $310 million to the Department of Education's ''Impact Aid'' Construction Program to eliminate the backlog of repair and construction needs for public schools located on or near military facilities.

- Create a ''Veterans Health Care Task Force,'' composed of officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans service organizations and VA health care providers, to help implement the Veterans Millennium Health Care Act.

-Review overseas deployments and seek political solutions that allow an orderly and timely withdrawal from hotspots like Kosovo and Bosnia.


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