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ARLINGTON, Va. — President Bush on Thursday urged Congress to pass funding for the war on terrorism before lawmakers leave for the upcoming Christmas recess.

Bush spoke to reporters briefly at the Pentagon after meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England on the military’s long-term needs and the “importance of progressing with modernization,” he said.

“The men and women of this department, the Department of Defense, are helping to carry out the government’s most important duty: protecting the American people,” Bush said.

He also said the department’s mission was too important to be “disrupted or delayed or put at risk.”

Bush said Congress has yet to approve funding he requested in February for combat operations and to train the Iraqi and Afghan security forces, and the continued delay could hurt the Defense Department.

“Secretary Gates puts it this way, ‘The Defense Department is like the world’s biggest supertanker: It cannot turn on a dime and I cannot steer it like a skiff,’” Bush said.

Bush said Gates has transferred the maximum amount of money allowed to pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now he has told the Army and Marine Corps to prepare to lay off civilian employees, terminate contracts and prepare stateside military bases for reduced operations.

“These are contingency steps that a prudent manager must take,” he said.

Bush called on lawmakers to pass the approved funding, saying policymakers have a responsibility to “send the right message to the rest of the world.”

“Let us tell our enemies that America will do what it takes to defeat them,” Bush said. “Let us tell Afghans and Iraqis that we will stand with them as they take the fight to our common enemies. Let us tell our men and women in uniform that we will give them what they need to succeed in their missions, without strings and without delay.”

In response to Bush’s comments, U.S. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said if Bush wants the $50 billion he requested, he must agree to certain conditions including coming up with a plan to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq by December 2008.

“We cannot stay in Iraq forever,” Obey said in the statement. “The president should accept these conditions and come up with a responsible plan to bring our troops home.”

U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., accused Bush of brinkmanship.

“By threatening to close military child-care centers and counseling services, the president is using our military families as a wedge,” Murtha said in a statement Thursday. “These kinds of comments and threats do nothing to move the debate forward.

“The president should do what Americans want him to do — present to Congress and the American people a bipartisan plan that brings our troops home.”

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