Last week, The National Journal broke the story, since confirmed by other sources, that the Obama administration plans to cut billions of dollars from the LIHEAP program that subsidizes energy costs for the needy (boldface mine):
President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget will cut several billion dollars from the government’s energy assistance fund for poor people, officials briefed on the subject told National Journal….
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, would see funding drop by about $2.5 billion from an authorized 2009 total of $5.1 billion. The proposed cut will not touch the program’s emergency reserve fund, about $590 million, which can be used during particularly harsh cold snaps or extended heat spells, three officials told National Journal.
In 2010, Obama signed into law an omnibus budget resolution that released a total of about $5 billion in LIHEAP grants for 2011. Pointing to the increasing number of Americans who made use of the grants last year, advocates say that LIHEAP is already underfunded. 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….
Still, despite the uncertainties surrounding the proposed cut, it is dramatic. LIHEAP has been semi-sacred for most Democrats and many Republicans — 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. “A lot of people in the Northeast are going to be unhappy,” an administration official briefed on the budget said.
I do not understand this. Once again, the Obama administration deliberately attacks a group that supported him: poor, elderly Northeasterners. Admittedly, it’s no different than every other effort by Obama to fuck over his own base, but still, I don’t get it.
Hell, even John Kerry and Chuck Schumer realize this is a bad idea. On the policy side, this is stupid: the issue isn’t just when the weather is unusually bad (there are laws to prevent energy shutoffs in most states). Exceptionally bad weather only means that the poor are screwed even more than usual. They need this assistance during mild winters too. Because they’re poor.
Finally, there’s the ethical dimension. No one forced this on Obama. It’s not like the Republicans proposed this, and he thought he had to make a deal. Screwing over the elderly poor, that’s all him. No one forced him to do it–it wasn’t even on the table.
There are ways for the administration to show it is “serious” about deficit reduction besides going after the poor with cuts that are a drop in the bucket relative to the size of the deficit problem. I’d be much more impressed for example if the administration demonstrated its seriousness by going after powerful vested interests rather than those least able to defend themselves within the political arena.
But that would require political courage, something Obama has never shown in great quantities, except when punching Dirty Hippies in the Face. Asking those who have nothing left to give to engage in ‘shared sacrifice’ is cruel and disgusting.
This is change we must oppose.
An aside: Thoma also knocks down the ‘subsidy for energy companies’ argument:
As for the “subsidy to energy companies” argument, pretty much any spending on the poor can be recast as a “subsidy” to someone. For example, giving people food to prevent starvation is nothing more than backdoor support for those greedy farmers who already get enough help from the government.