(Host) Billions in new federal heating oil assistance faces a test vote in the U-S Senate this weekend. Money for Vermont and other cold weather states is at stake.
As Todd Zwillich reports, the outcome of the vote is uncertain, despite bipartisan support for the spending.
(Zwillich) More than 21,000 households in Vermont get help with their heating costs under LIHEAP. That’s the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. That state got $11.8 million in assistance this year.
The Senate on Saturday is scheduled to consider a bill doubling federal heating oil assistance to $2.5 billion.
The bipartisan bill is sponsored by Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, and under normal circumstances, it would pass easily with support from Democrats and also Republicans from cold-weather states. But these are not normal circumstances in the Senate.
The body is mired in a partisan debate over energy policy…and Republican leaders are opposing the measure because they want to keep the Senate focused on a broader debate on oil prices. Sanders pled with colleagues not to let partisan fights derail the bill.
(Sanders) “I know all the excuses. All the reasons people can give for voting no. Hold ‘em. Don’t use ‘em tomorrow. Let the people back home know you’re going to stand up for some of the most vulnerable people in this country.”
(Zwillich) Sanders’ comments were directed at Republican senators like New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg. Gregg is a cosponsor of the LIHEAP bill, but is threatening to vote to block it Saturday. He says Democrats should instead be debating another bill that deals with oil prices across the market.
(Gregg) "Really, if they want to take up LIHEAP and they want to do it in the right way, they’d take it up in the context of reducing overall energy costs along with helping people who need low-income assistance and this is the bill to do it on."
(Zwillich) Gregg is not up for re-election in New Hampshire until 2010. Saturday’s vote could be easier for him than for New Hampshire’s other Republican senator. John Sununu faces reelection in November.
From Capitol News Connection, I’m Todd Zwillich for VPR News.