Friday, March 17, 2006

Senate Democrats Win Fight for Heating Assistance

After over six months of wrangling by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and John Kerry (D-MA), the Senate yesterday narrowly passed more funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The measure, which passed by a vote of 51-49, provides $3.3 billion in funding for fiscal year 2007 for this vital program that helps the elderly and disabled heat their homes in the winter.

With the addition of this funding, the program is near the fully-authorized level of $5.1 billion, which had been approved by the Congress before it fell under the Bush administration’s budget-cutting knife.

Every Democrat voted for the heating assistance -- championed again by Reed and cosponsored by 15 Democrats -- and they managed to get five cold-weather-state Republicans to side with them for the 51 votes needed for passage.

“I am overjoyed that the Senate has voted to support full funding for this essential program,” said Reed. “This vote signals real help for families and seniors continuing to face record high energy prices.”

The $3.3 billion in LIHEAP assistance must also pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives before it becomes reality to the millions of Americans who have quite literally been left out in the cold as Democrats waged a lengthy fight with the GOP leadership over this issue.

“It is my hope that the House of Representatives will follow the Senate’s lead in supporting [the total] $5.1 billion for federal heating assistance,” said Reed after the razor-thin vote. “Families and seniors are continuing to make tough choices when it comes to heating their homes and buying food or lifesaving medications. Passage of this amendment is a step in the right direction to ensure that they are not faced with these decisions next year.”

Meanwhile, Kennedy addressed the enormously frustrating battle previously fought by Senate Democrats to get this help to those in need before the winter months that have already gone by.

“Democrats pressed for months to increase funds for LIHEAP to the authorized level of $5.1 billion,” said Kennedy. “We urged the GOP leadership and the President to act, but the Republican majority blocked our efforts at every turn, and families paid a steep price for that neglect.”

As a reminder for those who say that there is no tangible difference between the two major political parties, allow me to refresh your memory on how the LIHEAP war was fought last year. Here are the four times that Reed and Kerry tried to get LIHEAP funded before winter set in and the vote results:
  • October 5, 2005, 50-49
  • October 20, 2005, 53-46
  • October 26, 2005, 54-43
  • November 17, 2005, 50-48
A 60-vote majority was needed and each time the bills failed by 10 votes or less. The important thing to remember when you think both major parties are the same, is that in all four of those instances, almost every Democrat voted for heating assistance for the elderly and disabled and nearly every Republican voted against it, even with winter looming.

When one side is usually on the side of doing what’s right and the other is invariable doing the wrong thing, there’s clearly a defined difference between Democrats and Republicans.

Said Kerry yesterday after narrow passage of the funding for next winter: “Today is a true victory in our long fight to fully fund LIHEAP. LIHEAP is an important lifeline many families depend on to heat their homes. We fought tooth and nail to get heating help for families all winter only to find senseless, politically-motivated obstacles every step of the way.”

And, as he does many times, it was Kennedy who tied a nice bow around the fight that will undoubtedly continue over the next couple of winters

“The Administration continues to ignore the needs of our most vulnerable citizens so we must wage the same battle all over again.”