By Matt Yancey
WASHINGTON -Republicans on Saturday blocked the Senate from considering a bill next week that would nearly double federal aid to help the poor pay heating and air-conditioning bills.
Although a dozen Senate Republicans support the measure, most voted with GOP leaders who would rather spend the time trumpeting their call to expand offshore oil drilling before Congress takes six weeks off for vacation and the presidential nominating conventions.
“The American resources on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts contain 14 billion barrels at a minimum … more than we have imported from the Persian Gulf in the last 15 years,” said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.
Democrats needed 60 votes to substitute the measure on heating and air-conditioning aid in place of the debate on an expansion of offshore drilling championed by President Bush and GOP presidential candidate John McCain. They got 50 votes Saturday, with 35 Republicans voting against changing the topic.
“Do we vote to keep the old, the sick and kids alive when the weather gets cold or very, very hot, or do we spend money on people who make huge campaign contributions? That is part of what this debate is about,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont.
The government is devoting $2.6 billion in subsidies for helping people with low incomes pay heating and air-conditioning bills this year. Sanders’ bill would nearly double that to $5.1 billion.
Both of Maine’ s Republican senators said they were disappointed with the heat-aid bill’ s being sidetracked.
“The inability of the Senate to move forward on this vital and life-saving legislation is frustrating and an injustice to the thousands of families across the country that will be unable to afford the fundamental necessity of heating their homes this coming winter,” Sen. Olympia Snowe said.
Sen. Susan Collins said she’ s hopeful the Senate will bring it up again next week.
While Senate Democrats said they hoped to pass it next week, Democrats in the House were looking at the popular subsidies for anchoring a second economic aid bill they want to push in September, closer to the November election.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is vehemently against letting the House vote on offshore drilling. She and Democratic leaders in the Senate also have shut down normal summer work on spending bills to prevent offshore drilling from getting a legislative footing in the appropriations committees.