Monday, October 10, 2005

Another Cruel Vote By Senate Republicans

I wrote on Thursday about an under-the-radar Senate vote that happened the previous week, in which Republicans voted to gut the Community Services Block Grant program, which provides money to help low-income people with essential living expenses such as housing, food and heating costs.

But there were the Republicans last week, pulling their Simon-Legree act again – except this time, cruelly yanking the plug on a bill that would have fully funded the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
Sponsored by Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and co-sponsored by 28 senators, the amendment was defeated 50-49 last week by a point of order that blocked an up-or-down vote.

The LIHEAP amendment, which Kerry tried to insert into the slam-dunk Defense Appropriations bill – which then passed unanimously on Friday – would have provided $3.1 billion in emergency funding to help off-set increasing costs of oil and natural gas brought on by recent hurricanes.

The Democrats' primary goal in attempting to fully fund LIHEAP was to help low-income families, the disabled, and fixed-income senior citizens in the approaching winter. The amendment was necessary because of Bush-administration budget cuts that left the program woefully underfunded.

While not an entirely party-line vote, all but three Democratic senators voted for the measure while almost every Republican senator voted against it -- thus leaving people already struggling from the Hurricane season, literally and figuratively out in the cold. (For the record, the Democrats needing a trip to
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's woodshed are Thomas Carper of Delaware, Hawaii's Daniel Inouye and our main Republican-lite, Ben Nelson of Nebraska.)

But Bush, Karl Rove and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist knew they could count on most Republican senators to step up to the plate and do the wrong thing.

Kerry was understandably disappointed.

"It’s hard to believe that the Republican leadership would stand in the way of emergency funding to help millions of families and seniors heat their homes this winter," said Kerry in a statement. "By blocking the LIHEAP amendment on procedural vote, the Republican leadership has sent a terrible message to Americans because tonight politics was placed ahead of helping families."

And Republicans – who are always good to vote for tax relief for the wealthiest Americans – have chosen to pull this in a year that is expected to produce record prices for gas and oil. U.S. households can expect to pay sharply higher monthly heating bills this winter, with the increases ranging from 45 percent to 90 percent in much of the country, utility companies and weather forecasters warn.

"This is not the time to be shortchanging LIHEAP assistance," said Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), one of the bill's co-sponsors. "We should be doing all we can so that low-income families and senior citizens do not have to make the impossible choice between paying their home energy bills or affording other basic needs such as prescription drugs, housing, and food.”

And you can't say that these compelling arguments weren't made on the Senate floor before the vote.

Said Kerry when arguing on behalf of his amendment: "The fact is, having to choose between a warm house or a full stomach for your children is not a choice anyone in America, the wealthiest nation on the face of the planet, wealthiest industrial nation, ought to welcome."

"No senior citizen should have to decide to either buy lifesaving pharmaceuticals or pay their electric bill," said Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) during debate. "But, unfortunately, low-income working Americans are facing these decisions this winter."

And Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), also a co-sponsor of the bill, spelled out the consequences of such a severe funding cut more specifically.

"Ninety-four percent of LIHEAP recipients have at least one member who is elderly, disabled, a child under the age of 18, or is a single parent with a young child," said Kennedy. "Seventy-seven percent of LIHEAP recipients report an annual income at or below $20,000 and 61 percent of recipients have annual incomes at or below the Federal poverty line."

And, once again, the difference between Democrats and Republicans is brought into very specific relief. Democrats fight for the people represented by these numbers, while Republicans ignore them or simply do not care that they exist.