Thursday, October 27, 2005

Three Strikes: Republicans Leave Elderly, Poor in Cold Yet Again

I guess Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) wanted to give Republicans another chance to either confirm what we already know about them or to show that there’s actually a shred of decency in their stone-cold hearts – and the GOP took that opportunity to again give a middle finger to the elderly and poor on home-heating assistance.

By a vote of 54-43 – with a 60-vote majority needed for passage because of its “emergency” status – the second Reed amendment to fully fund the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) failed again in the U.S. Senate yesterday.

Once again, all but a small handful of Republicans voted against the bill. Democrats Thomas Carper (D-DE) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) – who should be stripped naked and left on a cold Nebraska prairie for a few days – were again the only Democrats voting against the LIHEAP funding.

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) had a similar bill shot down by the GOP on October 5 and Reed’s previous attempt at securing LIHEAP funding went down in Republican flames a week ago.

“It is imperative that this appropriations bill provide additional resources to the LIHEAP program so families are safe and warm this winter,” said Reed in arguing for his bill yesterday. “One of the lessons from Katrina is that we understand that there are people who are vulnerable, and they have to be protected before the storm hits, not afterwards. This is an opportunity to do that for people throughout this country who are vulnerable this winter to rising energy prices and falling temperatures.”

Reed then quoted a New York Times editorial that took Senate Republicans to task for their previous vote to kill LIHEAP funding.

“Republican majorities in Congress are unrelenting in their drive to pass $70 billion in new tax cuts this fall, most of them for wealthy investors, and $35 billion in spending cuts, most in programs that benefit the poor,” declared the editorial, Washington's Cold Shoulder.

The editorial continued: “Vulnerable people need to keep the heat on to keep from getting sick, or worse. Such subsidies help everyone by maintaining public health and safety, ensuring that others don't become ill and spread illness, or resort to hazardous means of heating that can cause fires. Heating aid for the needy is also a matter of common decency, which ordinary Americans are entirely capable of, though not, so far, their elected leaders.”

Susan Collins (R-ME) was one of the few Republicans supporting the bill and argued for its passage.

“While high energy prices pose a challenge for almost all Americans, they impose an especially difficult burden on low-income families and our elderly citizens who are living on limited incomes,” said Collins. “Low-income families spend a greater percentage of their incomes on heating their homes, and they have fewer options available as energy prices soar. Surely we can do better to help those who otherwise will truly suffer during the winter months.”

Said Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), “The LIHEAP program fills the gap for the poorest and most vulnerable of our citizens, allowing them the sanctuary of a warm home, something to which each and every American is entitled. I cannot stand by and let the throes of winter leave the most vulnerable in my State out in the cold, and I urge my colleagues to support [the bill].”

Senator Byrd’s pleas fell on deaf ears as the Republican majority once again defeated a bill that could have been funded by a tiny fraction of the additional tax cuts they would give to the wealthiest Americans.

Ted Kennedy (D-MA) heaped scorn on his mean-spirited colleagues for their steady efforts to keep LIHEAP from being funded.

“There is no excuse for the Republican majority to look the other way--but they do. They continue to ignore families who lie awake at night worrying how to make ends meet,” said Kennedy. “They refuse to acknowledge the parents who worry, day after day, week after week, month after month, how to feed their children and keep the heat on, or the elderly who turn down their thermostats, put on extra sweaters, or even turn off the heat in an attempt to save money.”

Do you think these Republican senators ever lie awake in a cold bedroom? No way. Though their hearts may be cold, I’m sure their cushy beds are warm and cozy.