EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – The commander-in-chief telling an Air Force hangar full of military personnel at about how he wants to increase military spending — and soldier pay — would be like striking up a conversation in New England Sunday about football.
Enthusiasm marked President Bush's visit to Eglin Air Force Base Monday, where he was greeted with deafening cheers by a crowd of some 9,000 people.
Buoyed by the military's recent success in Afghanistan, the president sought to leverage his wartime popularity to pressure Congress to approve his $2.13 trillion budget — with its $48 billion increase for the Pentagon — without delay or quarrel.
"We're unified in Washington on winning this war," Bush said. "One way to express our unity is for Congress to set the military budget and the defense of the United States as the No. 1 priority and fully fund my request."
Back in Washington, lawmakers began reviewing the four-volume, 426-page spending plan that Bush formally submitted on Monday.
For his tough-talking speech to promote his defense budget, Bush wore a leather bomber jacket with an American flag patch stitched over his heart. For the second time in four days, the president was accompanied by his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Last Thursday, Bush asked senior citizens in Daytona Beach to continue volunteer service through the federal Senior Corps program he hopes to expand.
"I always enjoy coming to states that have a great governor. Enough said," the elder Bush told the crowd.
Given Florida's decisive role in Campaign 2000, reporters asked White House press secretary Ari Fleischer if Bush's frequent trips here also had something to do with laying groundwork for his own 2004 re-election.
"No, I think it's fair to say that as this election year begins, the president will be helpful to Republican candidates on the state level and federal level," Fleischer replied.
At Eglin AFB, the president argued that his budget will provide much-needed high-tech weapons and equipment necessary for not only defeating the enemy, but also for saving innocent civilians. Eglin serves as headquarters for the Air Armament Center, which develops, tests and maintains all of the Air Force's air-delivered weapons.
"We need to be agile, quick to move. We need to be able to send our troops on the battlefields in places that many of us never thought there would be a battlefield. We need to replace aging aircraft and get ready to be able to defend freedom with the best equipment possible," he said. "The budget I submit makes it clear we need more of them."
Now that U.S. forces have ousted Afghanistan's terrorist-allied Taliban, Bush said the next step is to "run down the Al Qaeda and the rest of the terrorists — and maybe give 'em a free trip to Guantanamo Bay."
Fox News' James Rosen and the Associated Press contributed to this report.