PHOENIX -- President Bush, mindful that Democrats have been hammering the administration on shifting defense spending to help the civilian economy, yesterday proposed more than $1 billion in educational and job training programs for military and civilian defense workers.
The president's proposal includes nearly $90 million to help former defense technicians find new careers in education by paying for courses to become state-certified teachers. One-third that money is specifically targeted to encourage them to become teachers in math and science.
The president's proposal also encourages early military
retirements and expands existing G.I. Bill benefits by some $200 million to aid military personnel who leave the service voluntarily after serving for at least six years.
With the California primary Tuesday, Mr. Bush announced the programs as he traveled to the state for a two-day visit. His programs are aimed at areas hard hit by base closings and defense contractor layoffs.
Feeling the political pressure from Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, the expected Democratic nominee who announced his own military conversion proposals in California several weeks ago, Mr. Bush is trying to establish his own record and offset criticism that there is no "peace dividend" despite the end of the Cold War.
A Democratic task force of 21 senators last week blistered the administration's defense conversion policies, charging, "No planning. No strategy. No leadership. And as a result, no action."
The White House proposal is similar to what the Democrats proposed, and each side recognizes that with the Pentagon canceling 100 weapons systems, closing 34 military bases and "realigning" 48 others, that nearly 350,000 defense-related jobs will cease to exist each year for the next four years.
Mr. Bush's proposals, which mostly expand existing programs rather than create new ones, was first considered about six weeks ago. But White House and campaign staffers claimed that the Los Angeles riots distracted Mr. Bush from pursuing the initiative until this week.