The do-nothing Congress

The Baltimore Sun

The Democrats who control Congress have been hiding behind their inability to get bills that might affect the war in Iraq through the Senate. See how we try, they say, but the shadow of filibuster and veto keeps us from doing anything.

Not anymore. President Bush has asked Congress for $190 billion in supplemental funds to keep paying for Iraq and Afghanistan; the Democrats in the House of Representatives can do with that request as they see fit. Unfortunately, it looks like politics will get in the way of what's right.

Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday that no war spending bill would come out of his committee until the White House commits to a troop pullback by January 2009. He also called for a war surcharge on the income tax to pay for the continuing costs of the American intervention in Iraq. This one supplemental request, incidentally, is nearly four times as large as the administration's original cost estimate for the entire war and occupation.

Mr. Obey said, reasonably enough, that he is open to compromise with the president; some war critics weren't at all pleased with that, worrying that he would ultimately cave in.

As it turns out, their fears may be moot. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has expressed a decided lack of enthusiasm for Mr. Obey's project, and dismissed the idea of a tax surcharge out of hand. She and other Democratic leaders clearly don't want to give any ammunition to the Republicans; they want the war and its disastrous consequences to hang around the Republicans' necks, and they seem to be calculating that the best way to do that is to stand well to one side and let the catastrophe continue to unfold.

They have an eye, surely, on next year's elections.

But there comes a time when politicians should stop seeking advantage and instead start using the advantage that they already have - and this is one of those times. Giving the White House a blank check to continue the war, however reluctantly, is the wrong thing to do. Raising taxes to pay for President Bush's misadventure - and forcing him to go along - is the right thing to do. Deep down, even most Republicans must recognize that.

The House of Representatives should show some backbone - not for the sake of either party, but for the sake of the country.

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