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Bush Pushes Congress on War Funding

President Bush invited military families to the White House Monday, as he stepped up his campaign for Congressional passage of a war funding bill without a timetable for withdrawal. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House that Mr. Bush says Congress owes America's fighting men and women no less.

The message was the same. The tone was different.

This time, it was personal.

President Bush motioned to the parents, children, spouses and siblings seated before him in the White House East Room. He told their stories, and spoke of their support for the troops, even at a time of great loss.

"Many of the families here today have relatives serving in harm's way. Others have lost loved ones in the struggle," he said. "They have come here to Washington with a message for their elected leaders in our nation's capital: Our troops need the resources, equipment and weapons to fight our enemies."

Once again, the president accused the Democratic leadership in Congress of playing politics with the war by pushing a $100 billion war funding bill that includes language setting a timeline for withdrawal.

"Congress needs to put the partisanship on hold; it needs to get rid of all the politics right now and send me an emergency war spending bill that I can sign that gets our troops the support they need and gives our commanders the flexibility they need to complete this mission," Mr. Bush said.

The president will sit down Wednesday with congressional leaders to talk about the dispute. Mr. Bush said he looks forward to the meeting, but made clear there will be no change in his war policy.

"Listen, I understand Republicans and Democrats in Washington have differences over the best course in Iraq. That's healthy. That's normal. And we should debate those differences," he said. "But our troops should not be caught in the middle."

The top Democrat in the U.S. Senate - Majority Leader Harry Reid - responded a short time later. He said Democrats will make sure U.S. forces have the necessary resources. But he said with this controversial bill, Congress is sending the president a message from the American people.

"The president has a choice to make in the coming days: cling to the discredited policies that have led our troops further into this intractable civil war or work with a bipartisan majority in Congress to make us more secure," said Senator Reid.

Reid said the Democratic leadership is determined to send a bill with a timetable for withdrawal to the president. But recently, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee let it be known the Democrats have a back up plan in the event of an expected presidential veto.

Carl Levin said if Democrats cannot muster the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, they will draft a substitute bill. He indicated it will not contain specific language on a troop withdrawal, but will set deadlines - or benchmarks - designed to pressure the Iraqi government to meet specific goals so American forces can come home.