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March 29, 2007 - Charlotte Observer 

All in favor of House bill on Iraq funding say `Oink!' Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems likely to win the House vote on war funding today. It would be a massive blow to her prestige if she didn't. But do not be misled: A victory for the Democrats' bill does not mean the party has forged a consensus on Iraq. The votes that determine the outcome are likely to come from members hungry for pork. What a sad spectacle.

The heart of the bill represents the yearnings of most Americans. Nobody wants to be in Iraq a minute longer than necessary. The question, of course, is how long is that. President Bush says it's until Iraq has a government stable enough to resolve internal conflicts and resist external pressures. The House bill says it's until Aug. 31, 2008.

Granted, the president has made a mess of things in Iraq. But the United States can't just walk away and pretend that solves the problem. Iraq is a significant nation in a region whose oil reserves are vital to global economic stability. Our withdrawal must be determined by a more thoughtful process than looking at the calendar.

The way House leaders have handled the bill is depressing. Unable to unite the party on Iraq, they resorted instead to slathering the legislation with lard. President Bush asked for $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan plus $3 billion in standby disaster relief. As the bill went to the House floor, it proposed to give him $126.4 billion. Just 10 weeks after agreeing to do away with so-called "earmarks," House Democratic leaders basted the bill with:

• $25 million for spinach growers to recoup losses suffered when contaminated spinach sickened nearly 200 people and resulted in three deaths last year.

• $1.5 billion in livestock assistance for producers affected by wildfires or blizzards.

• $16 million to convert the old Food and Drug Administration building in southwest D.C. into more office space for the Capitol.

• $252 million for a government milk program beneficial to dairy farmers.

• $400 million for rural schools in the Pacific Northwest.

• $74 million to ensure proper storage for peanuts.

It's hard to say which is worse about such peanut politics: that on such an important national issue leaders engage in it, or that members' votes are bought by it.

The House action is, in practical terms, a free vote. President Bush has promised to veto the bill, but he won't have to. It won't survive in the Senate, where the Democrats have 50 votes but 60 are needed to break a filibuster.

What Democratic leaders should do is something harder than doling out peanut money to woo votes. They should work with President Bush and Republicans to forge a reasonable agreement on how to proceed in Iraq. The president has already established benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet to ensure continued U.S. support. Many Republicans in Congress have deep misgivings about the war.

There's ground for bipartisan agreement. Achieving that would be governing. All the stuff going on in the House now is politics.

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