June 2, 2003
As expected, the Senate today returned to the energy bill. We were supposed to be doing ethanol, the pending business. But ethanol traffic was light because a lot of Senators were still traveling back to D.C. from their home states and not around to offer amendments or speeches on the topic (read: today was a “no vote” day). So we switched subjects, setting aside ethanol and taking up an amendment dealing with funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP is the program that helps poor people pay their heating bills in winter or air conditioning bills in summer. Without LIHEAP assistance, low-income families, disabled citizens and seniors face the impossible choice between paying their home energy bills or affording other basic necessities such as prescription drugs, housing and food. Anyway, Sen. Domenici offered a 1st degree amendment (Domenici/Bingaman #840) that would increase the annual funding for LIHEAP to $3.4 billion per year – a substantial increase over the current funding level. Then, Sen. Domenici offered a 2nd degree amendment on behalf of Sen. Gregg (Gregg #841) that would strike the actual authorization and insert, instead, a non-binding “Sense of the Senate” that merely promises that the Health, Labor, Education and Pensions (HELP) committee will at some point consider increasing the authorization level for LIHEAP whenever it gets around to reauthorizing a bill in the next 18 months or so. It is baffling to us that anyone would strike an actual authorization for a vital safety net like LIHEAP and replace it with an inconsequential resolution that instructs a different committee to merely “consider” a funding increase This is especially so given that this same funding increase was in the energy bill that passed the Senate 88-11 last year, and given that this same funding increase is already in HR 6, the current House-passed energy bill (and thus on the table in any conference). It seems that HELP wants to do its own bill, which may or may not be considered or even pass the Senate. But HELP will not be precluded from considering LIHEAP changes in the future just because LIHEAP provisions are included in S. 14. To our way of thinking, the issue is, “Do we want to increase funding for LIHEAP now, and help those people least able to pay their utility bills?” Sen. Bingaman, among others, says that we should.