The Legislature has a duty to focus on the budget and the deficit, not on foreign affairs.

The Maine House of Representatives passed a resolution on Feb. 11 opposing military intervention in Iraq. While all lawmakers are united in their hope that war can be avoided, many of us chose to oppose this resolution because of the message it sent and because it was being delivered by the wrong messenger.

As members of the Maine Legislature, we were elected to tackle the problems facing Maine. Runaway health care costs, our oppressive tax burden, and Maine’s $1.1 billion budget deficit are just a few of the items we ought to be spending our time on. The resolution on Iraq took valuable legislative time that should have been spent on matters that we were elected to address.

If time were all we were lacking, an argument could be made for working harder or longer in the Legislature so we could spend time on the Iraqi issue. The truth is, however, the Legislature also lacks the information necessary to make informed decisions or even offer advice on matters of foreign policy.

As House Republican Leader Joe Bruno recently expressed on the floor of the House of Representatives, we do not see sensitive intelligence information, generals do not present us with briefings on our military preparedness, and we do not hold discussions with foreign dignitaries. So, while we are each entitled to our own opinions, as citizens, on this issue, it is a mistake for the Legislature to take a position on an issue so clearly outside its purview.

Setting aside the fact that the Legislature ought not to be immersing itself in foreign policy debates to begin with, the sentiment expressed in the resolution is divisive and wrong.

While the resolution includes expressions of support for our troops and veterans that we endorse, it also urges the president to resolve the Iraqi threat through the auspices of the United Nations and without military intervention. This gives the impression to those reading it throughout the world that the Maine Legislature does not believe the United States is doing all it can diplomatically to end this crisis.

A bigger concern is the message this resolution sends to just one person, tyrannical dictator Saddam Hussein.

This resolution tells Saddam Hussein that our nation is divided at a time when we must be strong in our resolve. While we believe President Bush will act as necessary to defend our nation, the resolution may give Saddam Hussein hope that the United States does not have the collective will needed to disarm Iraq should he continue to defy the world.

Lest we forget the legislative body that does have an official role in reviewing U.S. foreign policy has already made it clear that disarming Iraq is important enough to justify the use of force. Overwhelming and bipartisan majorities in both the U.S. House and Senate approved a resolution authorizing the use of force to disarm Iraq last fall in response to the classified information and intelligence briefings they receive.

While we regret that the House of Representatives passed this resolution, it is now done and we can get onto the work we were elected to do. We are hopeful that over the next several weeks we can find common ground on a state budget that gets spending under control, keeps our commitment to education, and does not include any new tax increases. This will be hard work, but it must be done and is something we should have been focusing on all along.

Rep. Bob Berube, R-Lisbon, serves on the Business, Research and Economic Development Committee. Rep. Joan Bryant-Deschenes, R-Turner, serves on the Judiciary Committee.

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