Saturday, December 24, 2005

Repubs compassion: We don't care if poor freeze...

From NY Times:

December 25, 2005
A Chilling Departure From the Capitol

One of the shabbiest shell games of the year was played out in the closing hours of Congress in its now-you-see-it, now-you-don't offering of some badly needed winter heating aid to the nation's working poor. The climactic moment occurred when Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, huckstering his most treasured goal, tried to sell oil drilling in his state's pristine wildlife preserve by promising it would help finance a long list of shoppers' bonuses for his colleagues: extra money for flu vaccine, hurricane reconstruction, first-responder radios and - if you vote yes right away - $2 billion in extra heating aid for the poor this cold winter.

Mr. Stevens's cunning warning was that all those extras would die on the vine unless Alaska drilling was approved. His cynical flimflammery was deservedly rebuffed as enough opponents stood firm against the oil drilling. And soon enough the word went round that things like flu vaccine and hurricane aid were not endangered after all.

Not so the extra fuel aid for low-income families. There was a heating supplement tied to the Alaska proposal, as Mr. Stevens promised. But there was also a separate $2 billion appropriated for the same purpose elsewhere in the legislation - unconnected to the Alaska floor machinations - that somehow was struck from the final bill as lawmakers rushed to recess. Malice? Who can say? Obviously the poor can't afford a campaign donation PAC to catch Congress's attention for an answer.

The government's home heating supplement now stands at a half or less of what the poor will need if predictions of a harsh winter pan out and fuel bills increase 25 percent. Various studies have established that, in a pinch, the poor scrimp on food purchases in order to meet heating bills. Yet Congress's stinginess is being compounded by the administration's recent decision to reject a request from New York and several other states to increase food stamp outlays to the poor as fuel bills mount.

Lawmakers insist that the $2 billion supplement technically had to be cut - but may be restored yet again next month. Believe that and we have an oil derrick to sell you in Alaska.


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