As snow begins to pile up in the shady spots here, so do home heating bills, especially for those who use oil, propane or any other imported petroleum product.

Many Maine residents keep a close eye on the price of oil as it soars and falls on rumors of war in the Persian Gulf. But in a series of interviews at Mac's Variety and Deli here, most people agreed on one thing: The price of oil is not a good enough reason to go to war, nor is it a good enough reason to stay out of war, either.

They also agree, almost unanimously, that Congress should debate the issue and cast a vote first.

Otherwise, there appears to be little consensus here. Some people say the American forces should strike fast and hard, to stop Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as Adolf Hitler should have been stopped. Others say they have yet to hear a good reason for spilling blood in the desert. Many say they are just not sure.

Janine Stafford, who works in the Auburn Public Library, said she is angry about what she considers lack of a federal energy policy. "I would gladly pay two or three dollars more a gallon," she said. "It would hurt, of course. But I would consider it my patriotic duty to try to conserve, rather spill blood in the desert."

Saying she was "appalled" that President Bush had ordered more than 400,000 U.S. troops overseas on an offensive footing without a national debate, Stafford had this message for Rep. Olympia J. Snowe (R):

"I would tell her Congress better examine its authority under the war powers act and the Constitution. . . . I want her to ask the president what exactly our goals are -- spell it out -- then to articulate how we achieve some of those goals."

Stan Proctor, 54, a veteran who works for General Electric, said he has heard enough talk. He is ready to confront Iraq and would tell Snowe: "Back the president."

In Proctor's view, it was congressional meddling and concern for U.S. allies that got the United States into trouble in Vietnam and Korea. "We've got to take a stand," he said, as the television behind the lunch counter broadcast Senate testimony by Secretary of State James A. Baker III on U.S. policy in the gulf.

"Oil is not the issue," Proctor said. "It's the man's philosophy," he added, referring to Saddam. "He's doing the same thing Adolf Hitler did. I figure we better stop him before he gets too powerful."

Bill Fournier, 48, a former police officer here, was openly anguished about U.S. policy. "There's so much at stake," he said, expressing a concern shared by many.

Fournier said he wants a peaceful resolution and believes that the president has not exhausted all possibilities. But he said he is concerned that "money and greed" will push the United States into war.

"Are we willing to die for oil? Are we willing to sacrifice our kids, for the sake of stimulating our economy?" he asked. Fournier urged that Congress take a hard look at "the human price," noting that "we're still paying dearly for Vietnam."

A few miles away, at the Auburn Mall, Charles Cummings, 28, a maintenance foreman from Farmington, said he hopes that "we kick their ass real quick." But no sooner had he said that than he paused to think about the long-term consequences. "What scares me is if we do go over and it escalates to the point where the Arabs {become} a whole nationality against us."

Although he wants Snowe to support the president, Cummings said Congress must play a role in deciding on war, depending on events. "If they start slaughtering people," he said, the president should be free to act to protect Americans.

"This isn't about oil," he added. "It's not about jobs. That's a bunch of bull. . . . It's political. . . . We've lost a lot of face, internationally."