Senate Blocks Home Energy Assistance

WASHINGTON, July 26 - Despite skyrocketing energy prices, Senate Republicans today blocked consideration of a bill that would provide an extra $2.5 billion in emergency assistance for working families, seniors and the disabled struggling to pay home energy costs.

"We will continue to fight for this," said Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the bill's sponsor. "We have an energy emergency. Given the escalating cost of home heating fuels, if we don't dramatically increase funding for the home energy program, senior citizens on fixed incomes, the disabled, and low-income families with children will go cold this winter."

The bipartisan bill by Sanders and 52 cosponsors to double funds for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program ran into a Republican leadership road block. The Senate vote on a procedural motion was 50 to 35, 10 short of the 60 needed to end a Republican filibuster and formally begin debate on the measure.

"At a time when oil companies are raking in record profits, the stubbornness of those who stood in the way of helping people in desperate need is incomprehensible to me. It is an outrage. The American people do not want to see the most vulnerable among us held hostage by the Senate Republican leaders," Sanders said.

"I appreciate the Republican senators who broke ranks and supported the bill, but I regret that too few put principle over politics," Sanders said. "I understand the games that are played in Washington, but it doesn't make the obstruction tactics any less revolting. This is life or death. People are dying in the summer heat. People will freeze to death this winter."

As crude oil rose to record highs, heating fuel in Vermont cost $4.46 a gallon last month, up from 79-cents a gallon as recently as June, 1999. Nationwide, the average cost of heating a home this winter will total about $1,114 - 14.6 percent more than last year - the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association has projected.

In floor speeches on the bill, Sanders stressed the need for assistance in sweltering southern states this summer as well as in Vermont and other cold-weather state in the winter.

"Historically, from 1979 to 2003, excessive heat exposure caused 8,015 deaths in the United States. During this period, more people in this country died from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined," according to the Centers for Disease Control. "During 1979 to 2002, a total of 16,555 deaths in the United States, an average of 689 per year…were attributed to exposure to excessive natural cold."