The Republican-led House last Wednesday passed by a slim margin a compromise spending bill that only slightly raises funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in fiscal year 2006.
By 215 to 213, House lawmakers approved a House-Senate conference report on a $602 billion funding measure for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (HR 3010). The bill sets aside $2.2 billion to help low-income customers pay their energy bills this winter, which is $176 million more than what the House approved in its version of the bill and $601,000 more than what was allotted for the program in fiscal year 2005.
LIHEAP proponents argue that the authorization is a mere drop in the bucket, and will do little to help meet the needs of those who are eligible for LIHEAP assistance this winter. The funding level falls far short of the maximum amount authorized under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 for LIHEAP ($5.1 billion), but it is in line with the White House's request.
This marked the second attempt by the House to pass the conference report on the spending bill. The House on Nov.17 voted down the report, as more than 20 Republicans defected and joined Democrats in opposing it. Republican leaders moved around $180 million in spending to appease the disgruntled members. The allocation for LIHEAP remained unchanged in the new version.
Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-NH) said he was pleased with the modest increase in the appropriations bill for LIHEAP. He and Rep. Bobby Rush (R-IL) circulated a letter urging conferees to raise the funding for LIHEAP in the final conference report. Ninety-four members of Congress signed the letter, he said.
The conference report hit a snag in the Senate last week, as Republican leaders indicated they did not have enough votes to pass it as a stand-alone measure, the Congressional Quarterly's Midday Update reported Friday. Instead the conference report, which apparently has no support from Democrats, will be attached to the Defense appropriations bill, it said.
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