President Bush on Friday pressed his efforts to crank up financial support for the war on terror, visiting with soldiers and urging Congress to make the extra money "the first order of business."

The president told a cheering crowd of civilians and soldiers in the Cumberland County Arena that the United States is entering the second phase of "a tireless, relentless campaign" against terrorism worldwide, and will need both the patience and support of the American people to carry it out.

With the House preparing to vote on next year's target budget, Bush used a visit to Fort Bragg, N.C., to call attention to his plan to raise defense spending by $48 billion to $379 billion, the largest increase in two decades.

"Nothing is more important than the national security of our country. So nothing is more important than our defense budget," Bush said. "The price for freedom is high, but it's never too high as far as I'm concerned."

Bush decried a routine congressional practice of taking up the defense money bill in the waning days of the fiscal year, saying, "That's bad budgeting practices in times of peace. It's really bad budgeting practices in times of war."

He said he expects lawmakers to make the defense budget "the first order of business so we can plan for this war."

Bush has proposed using the extra money to give service personnel pay raises, acquire more high-tech precision weapons and build missile defenses.

The president also offered an update to local residents on the war against terror and thanked servicemen and women from Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base for their contributions. He noted two soldiers from the area were killed recently in Afghanistan: Air Force Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman, 36, and Army Chief Warrant Officer Stanley L. Harriman, 34.

"I want the families to know that we pray with them, that we honor them, and they died in a just cause," Bush said.

Bush was to have lunch with troops and see a tactical demonstration of training exercises by the special operations forces headquartered at Fort Bragg.

His visit with the commando forces, which are largely credited with U.S. success against terrorist targets in Afghanistan, comes days before Republicans try to push their $2.1 trillion election-year budget through the full House.

The spending blueprint for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, which gives Bush nearly everything he wanted for the Pentagon, passed the House Budget Committee on a mostly party-line vote of 23 to 18.

In what is becoming a standard feature of his trips, Bush also was promoting his national-service challenge to Americans by meeting with Jane Davis, a registered nurse, Red Cross volunteer and Fort Bragg wife who recently returned from working at the site of the World Trade Center attacks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report