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Jewish World Review
Feb. 19, 2011
14 Adar I, 5771
Obama cool on home heating aid?
President Barack Obama made it official this week. “Look, I definitely feel folks’ pain,” he said at a news conference Tuesday.
And he is definitely doing some painful things in his new budget.
The president said he is “cutting things I care about deeply,” and these “are all programs that I wouldn’t be cutting if we were in a better fiscal situation. But we’re not.”
Unfortunately, one of the things he is cutting back is something that makes him look cruel, heartless and uncaring. It makes him look like one of those old silent-film bankers with top hats and handlebar mustaches who throw widows out into the snow.
The program Obama intends to cut has a particularly unpleasant-sounding acronym: LIHEAP. It stands for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and it gives money to poor people who cannot pay their winter heating bills.
(The program also gives aid to those who cannot pay their air-conditioning bills during the summer. That sounds like a luxury item until you consider that during a heat wave in Chicago in 1995, some 750 people died over a five-day period because they didn’t have air conditioning or they couldn’t afford to turn it on.)
This winter has been a particularly brutal one for people who live in the Midwest and Northeast regions of the United States, and LIHEAP has undoubtedly kept some of them alive.
So what is Obama proposing in the budget he released this week? He is going to cut LIHEAP funding in half, from $5.1 billion to $2.5 billion.
Nearly 9 million people currently get such funding and, according to the National Journal, which broke the story, the “American Gas Association predicts that 3 million Americans eligible for the program won’t be able to receive it unless LIHEAP funding stays at its current level.”
“LIHEAP has been semi-sacred for most Democrats and many Republicans,” the magazine said, “a program that carries an emotional resonance as it was designed to keep poor people, particularly older poor people, cool in the summer and warm in the winter.”
Obama defended the cuts, saying he had doubled funding to the program when he took office because there was a huge spike in energy costs. “Energy prices have now gone down, but the costs of the program have stayed the same,” Obama said Tuesday. “So what we’ve said is, well, let’s go back to a more sustainable level. If it turns out that once again you see a huge energy spike, then we can revisit it.”
But NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley says there’s some fuzzy — or maybe frosty — math going on there. He said Obama’s rationale for the drastic cut “is that the cost of heating fuels has fallen from the time when that budget was ramped up to $5 billion a year. Now that is true for natural gas, which is a popular heating fuel. It’s not true for heating oil, it’s not true for electricity, and it’s not true for kerosene. So there are people who really are going to be affected.”
MODERATOR: And then the president is saying he feels that pain — to use a phrase from earlier.
HORSLEY: He feels that shiver.
Some say Obama has no intention of really cutting the program but just wants to show how serious he is about reducing the deficit. They say he expects Congress to restore the LIHEAP funding. That may be true. But the president’s threat has already had one beneficial effect.
All those Republicans who think Obama is a socialist should read the press release put out by the World Socialist website, which is published by the International Committee of the Fourth International, one of the Trotskyite branches of socialism.
“The axing of LIHEAP amounts to a literal death sentence for many of those unable to pay exorbitant utility rates,” the socialist site says. “It will result in more freezing deaths in the winter and heat-related deaths during the summer, as well as more fatal house fires as victims of utility shutoffs desperately seek to keep their families warm in bitter cold temperatures.”
Which sounds like Obama better turn in his party card. A number of lawmakers were also angry, though more measured in their language.
“There are many other areas of the budget that can be cut, and that would not result in such harmful consequences for our most vulnerable families and senior citizens,” said Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine.
And Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, ripped Obama for cutting LIHEAP to fund more exotic schemes. “Talk about misplaced, off-track priorities,” Tester said. “I won’t support a budget that dumps billions of dollars into high-speed rail while cutting something as basic as heat for family homes across Montana and America.”
As I said, Obama may be hoping enough members of Congress will heed the cries of angry constituents and restore the LIHEAP funding. But what if they don’t?
In that case, the president may really feel the pain — the pain of being out in the political cold.
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