To Chicago, through Warsaw

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Congress has officially caught on to the idea that the Midwest is this year's election battleground. Tuesday, the House passed legislation, 335-65, authorizing $60 million in military aid to help Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic prepare for membership in NATO. TIME's Bruce Nelan says the bill is designed to appeal to the large bloc of ethnic Polish, Czech and Hungarian voters in the Midwestern states. "It is a political message that Congress is on the right side of the issue," says Nelan. "No representative in his right mind would vote against this legislation in an election year." The $60 million in aid, an insignificant amount of money for such a broad task, will not guarantee inclusion in the Atlantic alliance. To get in, these countries will have to demonstrate a functioning, multiparty democracy. "They also have to demonstrate civilian control of the military," adds Nelan. "Which is not the case for any of these countries." Tuesday's vote may gain kudos with voters, but Nelan notes that the real test of commitment to NATO expansion comes when the treaty is rewritten to include new members. "Only then will the real discussion begin of whether the U.S. is ready to commit American lives to the defense of these nascent democracies." -->