WASHINGTON – President Bush continued the battle with Congress on Monday saying funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan must be done without requiring the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
"Our troops need the resources, equipment and weapons to fight our enemies," Bush said from the East Room of the White House after meeting with military families. "Congress needs to pass an emergency war spending bill without strings and without further delay."
Bush has repeatedly pledged to veto any bill that includes a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
House and Senate negotiators still need to agree on a final version of the war spending bill before it can be sent to the president. The Senate version sets an exit date to begin within 120 days of the bill's passage, with a completion goal of March 31, 2008. The House bill would order all combat troops out by Sept. 1, 2008.
The chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate appropriations defense subcommittees are set to meet "unofficially" late Wednesday to gauge where both chambers are in terms of coming up with a so-called clean bill — with no timetables — to send to Bush.
An aide to House appropriations subcommittee chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., told FOX News that the entire conference committee will likely meet early next week, probably Tuesday, to craft a bill that can be passed in each chamber by the end of next week.
Democrats called on Bush to sign a bill that would fund the troops and change the course in Iraq.
"The president must understand that we're committed to funding the troops, but we're also committed to changing the course of the war in Iraq," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said at a press conference on Capitol Hill with two retired Army generals.
"They are isolated in their thinking, they are failing our troops and our country," Reid said. "Congress is committed to fully funding the troops, changing the course in Iraq and responsibly ending the conflict in far away Iraq."
Bush told the military families that he had just spoken with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "He said, 'Please thank the people in the White House for their sacrifices, and we will continue to work hard to be an ally in this war on terror,' " Bush said.
Several congressional leaders are expected to go to the White House on Wednesday to meet with Bush, who sent lawmakers his emergency supplemental spending request 70 days ago.
Bush declined an invitation last week from Democrats to meet with them on Capitol Hill after they rejected what they called "preconditions" on the White House meeting. Despite the battle over invitations, the Wednesday's get-together is a chance for each side to air their grievances.
“I’m willing to discuss any way forward that does not hamstring our troops, set an artificial timetable for withdrawal and spend billions on projects not related to the war,” Bush said.
Besides deadlines for withdrawal, the House version calls for $124 billion in spending while the Senate version is $122 billion. About $20 billion of those sums is for non-war-related projects at home, including Gulf Coast recovery projects and agricultural set-asides that have been criticized by Republicans as pork-barrel spending.
Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday said he's "willing to bet" that Democrats will back down and approve the funds without requiring troops to leave Iraq.
Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Cheney predicted Congress will end up passing a "clean" bill that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without any troop withdrawal timetables. Democrats do not appear to have the votes to override a presidential veto.
"They will not leave the troops in the field without the resources they need," Cheney said of the Democrats.
Asked what would happen if they don't back down, Cheney said, "I'm willing to bet the other way — that, in fact, they will."
"There may be some people who are so irresponsible that they wouldn't support that," Cheney said. But the majority will send Bush the bill he wants "once they've gone through the exercise and it's clear the president will veto the provisions that they want in," he said.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, said Congress won't cave to Bush's demands.
"Now we're going to support the troops — there's no doubt about it — we're going to fund the troops — there's no doubt about that — but we're going to try to use this opportunity to change this course," Levin told FOX News.
FOX News' Mike Emanuel and Molly Hooper and The Associated Press contributed to this report.