Friday, October 21, 2005

Republicans Screw Elderly, Poor Again on LIHEAP

Senate Republicans had a chance to pull their humanity out of the fire yesterday in another vote on emergency funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and once again they showed what cruel bastards they truly are.

By a vote of 53-46 – with 60 votes required for passage -- the Senate rejected a bill (S.Amdt. 2077) by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Susan Collins (R-ME) that would have provided an additional $3.1 billion to help the elderly, low-income families and disabled individuals pay their heating bills this winter.

Cosponsored by 36 other senators, the Reed-Collins amendment to the Transportation, Treasury, Judiciary, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (TTHUD) appropriations bill gave Republicans a chance to atone for their nay vote on a similar measure by Senator John Kerry (D-MA) just two weeks ago.

All but nine Republicans voted against the amendment and all but two Democrats – shame on you, Thomas Carper (D-DE) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) – voted for the LIHEAP funding.

Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) was a vocal proponent of the amendment and gave strong arguments on the Senate floor prior to the vote.

"Last week, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said increasing the support for LIHEAP is 'not on the agenda.' Not on the agenda? That is hard to understand," said an agitated Lautenberg. "Maybe someone with a lofty position such as the Secretary can discard it as a noncritical situation. But if a child shivers at home while he or she tries to study or while they sit there with their families to have some conversation--maybe what this Government of ours ought to do is ship out blankets to everybody, or shawls they can wrap around their shoulders. You tell the senior citizen who has to choose between buying medicine or paying the heating bill that the Government is not going to help them through this crisis"

"Helping families heat their homes should be near the top of our agenda," continued Lautenberg. "The Secretary's statement is outrageous. It is a sad commentary on the priorities of this administration."

Tom Harkin (D-IA) was equally offended.

"LIHEAP may not be on Secretary Bodman's agenda, and it may not be on the President's agenda, but it is on the Senate's agenda," said Harkin. "We have an obligation to do the right thing, to make sure our senior citizens and those with disabilities are not left out in the cold."

"The average LIHEAP household has an income of less than $10 thousand. These individuals are trying to make ends meet," said Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in arguing for the bill.

But all of that fell on deaf Republican ears – they're probably too worried about indictments to be concerned about poor people freezing to death – and even the most practical arguments from Senator Reed did nothing to persuade them.

"This is no innovative program. This is no controversial program. I dare say everyone on this floor would say it is a good program, it makes sense, it helps people who need help, particularly at a time when prices are surging as they are," said Reed. "Yet I hope we can come together and recognize we need something more than words. We actually need the appropriations to help keep these people whole, keep them, literally, warm this winter."

No such luck.

Said Senator Kennedy after the vote: "There is no excuse for the Republican majority to look the other way, but they do. We will not give up the fight. We'll be back again and again and again, until our nation's neediest families are better protected this winter.''