ATLANTA, March 27 (UPI) -- Heading to his Texas ranch Wednesday for the Easter holiday weekend, President George W. Bush made stopovers in Georgia and South Carolina where he addressed emergency workers before appearing at two GOP fundraisers.
"I'm looking forward to getting down to Texas. But, first, I'm really looking forward to campaigning here in South Carolina for R-Rep. Lindsey Graham," he told reporters during a stop at a Greenville, S.C. firehouse. "And I'm looking forward to making some announcements about homeland security, both in South Carolina and in Georgia."
Bush flew first to Greenville where he delivered a speech to so-called first-responders -- firefighters, emergency medical technicians and other rescue workers. At the Main Firehouse, Bush focused on the U.S.-led war on terrorism and the importance of homeland security.
He told the audience that his federal budget proposal for 2003 included a significant increase in funding for first responders and homeland security issues, along with the largest increase in military spending in two decades.
"I understand that the price of freedom is high, but as far as I'm concerned, it is never too high when it comes to the defense of freedom. And that's what we're defending. We don't seek revenge. We seek justice," Bush said of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed some 3,000 people in two U.S. cities.
The Bush administration's fiscal year 2003 budget proposal allots $3.5 billion to enhance homeland security response capabilities of America's first responders. Bush said one of the best homeland defense strategies was building the capability to share resources in communities located outside major metropolitan areas.
The administration has also set aside $140 million to assist those communities in planning and establishing so-called mutual aid agreements with other jurisdictions. It is the first time that the government has directly supported the establishment of mutual aid agreements with federal resources.
The president also boosted his Citizen Corps program as a support team for rescue workers responding first to a disaster. In January, Bush called Americans to serve in volunteer civilian defense, seeking out emergency workers, physicians and nurses for his Citizens Corps.
Since then, more than 1.6 million hits to the new www.citizencorps.gov Web site, and almost 24,000 Americans from all 50 states and U.S. territories have volunteered to work with one or more of the programs. Of those, more than 15,000 volunteers are looking to be trained in emergency response skills through Federal Emergency Management Agency's Community Emergency Response Team program.
After leaving the firehouse, Bush traveled to Palmetto Expo Center for a $1,000-per-ticket luncheon for Graham, who is campaigning for the Senate seat being vacated by Strom Thurmond. The White House said it was expected to raise $1 million.
Bush then flew into Atlanta where he repeated his message on homeland security to rescue workers at a firefighter's training center. There, he took time out to condemn the latest suicide bombing at an Israeli hotel that killed at least 15 people and wounded 80 others.
Later in the day, Bush attended a fundraiser for Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., where the White House said it expected $1.5 million to be raised.
Bush lands in Crawford, Texas, Wednesday night where he will spend the Easter holiday with first lady Laura Bush. On Thursday, he was expected to make the one-hour trip from the ranch to neighboring Dallas for another GOP fundraiser expected to raise another $1 million, according to the National Journal.
(Reported by Kathy Gambrell in Washington)