- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Senate Republicans on Tuesday killed a Democratic attempt to transform aid grants to Iraq into loans. Seven Democrats joined a unified Republican bloc to defeat the effort by a vote of 57-39. Sen. Joseph Biden, Delaware Democrat and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, voted against the proposal. He has been forthright in stating the necessity for legislators to support Iraqi reconstruction whether or not they supported the war before the fact. Not everyone in Congress is on the same page.

Despite the failure to convert $20.3 billion into loans, there are still efforts in the Senate to prevent President Bush’s aid package from being completely grant-based. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, and Susan Collins, Maine Republican, have cosponsored an amendment to convert at least $10 billion into a World Bank-controlled loan. The White House opposes any assistance in the form of a loan, because the administration is trying to convince foreign governments to help Iraq get back on its feet by relinquishing some of the nation’s $200 billion in debts.

A couple of Democratic senators running for president are leading the opposition to Iraqi funding. In an effort to match Howard Dean’s anti-war credentials, John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina have staked out positions against the $87 billion appropriation. Mr. Edwards, who voted for the war, now refuses to fund the next stage. There is no logic to his position. So long as American troops are in a hostile land — and the senator did vote to put them there — it is appalling for Mr. Edwards to take a position against giving them everything they need to defend themselves and make the mission a success.

While presidential aspirants routinely stake out unique positions to try to distinguish themselves from their primary competition, many House members looking to secure re-election next year have to be more careful. For this reason, the Democratic caucus is split down the middle on Iraq spending. In the Appropriations Committee, Democrats were divided by 15 votes to 14. Even the leadership is unsure which line to take. Despite pleading from other Democrats looking for direction, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California has refused to state how she will vote.

Missouri’s Dick Gephardt, a former House Democratic leader, took the high ground this week, saying he didn’t care if his support for Mr. Bush’s Iraq request hurt his presidential bid because, “We’ve got to send the right signal to our troops in the field, and we’ve got to send the right signal to people in Iraq who both don’t want us to succeed and do want us to succeed.” This stand for national interest over party interest and career is the mark of a statesman. News from Baghdad suggests progress is being made toward winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. To support our troops, the president now needs to win votes of Democrats in Congress. Mr. Gephardt is leading the charge.

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