WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush, prodding Congress to extend the Iraq war without calling troops home, said Monday that Democratic leaders owe it to veterans and their families to pass the war-spending bill he wants.
``Listen, I understand Republicans and Democrats in Washington have differences over the best course in Iraq,'' Bush said from the White House. ``That's healthy. That's normal, and we should debate those differences. But our troops should not be caught in the middle.''
Surrounded by families of veterans, Bush sought to set expectations for his meeting Wednesday with congressional leaders of both parties. In particular, he sought to pressure Democratic lawmakers to fund the war without trying to limit or wind down the military mission.
``That's what we're supposed to do _ we're supposed to talk out our differences,'' Bush said. ``I'm looking forward to the meeting. I hope the Democratic leadership will drop their unreasonable demands for a precipitous withdrawal.''
Both the House and Senate have passed bills to both fund the war and start drawing troops home. They are expected this to week to begin negotiating a final version to send to Bush. He has pledged to veto it if it is not stripped of the provisions he opposes.
Bush spoke in the orate East Room surrounded by mothers and fathers, husbands and wives and sons and daughters of U.S. troops who have been killed in Iraq. Members of military service support organizations filled out the crowd.
The president said he would deliver their message to Congress _ as he put it, U.S. troops ``want to finish the job.''
``The families gathered here understand that we are a nation at war,'' Bush said. ``Like me, they wish we weren't at war, but we are. They know that the enemies who attacked us on September the 11th, 2001, want to bring further destruction to our country.''
Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, responded that Bush and Republican congressional leaders have abandoned efforts to hold the Iraqi people and government accountable.
``As they rush to embrace the Bush plan for more of the same in Iraq, the Republican policy is to make U.S troops bear the full burden of the war on their shoulders,'' Emanuel said.