Marc Ambinder reports:
White House to Cut Energy Assistance for the Poor, by Marc Ambinder: 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.
It's the biggest domestic spending cut disclosed so far, and one that will likely generate the most heat from the president's traditional political allies. That would satisfy the White House, which has a vested interest in convincing Americans that it is serious about budget discipline.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, would see funding drop by about $3 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...
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.
Critics say that the program is poorly administered and that, contrary to intentions, it’s become a subsidy for energy companies, most of whom are prohibited by law from turning off services to delinquent bill-payers during weather emergencies. ...
Don't you feel sorry for the energy companies since they can't cut power on deliquent bill payers during weather emergencies? Private business should have a right to freeze people to death if they fall behind on their payments. Especially when there is a recession making it hard for people to get by and a lack of social support to fill the gaps in household budgets.</sarcasm>
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.
Update: I should have also knocked the administration for this move. 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.