Northeast senators by a two-to-one margin Thursday overcame a procedural budget hurdle that allows for $1 billion in funds that were to be allocated to aid low-income energy customers in fiscal year 2007 to be transferred to the current fiscal year.

By 66 to 31, the Senate majority waived the budget act to shift $1 billion included for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in a recent budget reconciliation measure from fiscal 2007 to the current fiscal year, even though there were no receipts to offset the large expenditure as is required under federal law.

Opponents to the measure, including Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK), Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), tried unsuccessfully to block the measure (S 2320), which was sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and other Northeast Republicans.

Snowe and her supporters in the Senate have been trying since late last year to obtain an increase in LIHEAP funding for Maine and other Frost Belt states. Despite the huge run-up in natural gas prices as the winter heating approached last November, Congress allocated fewer LIHEAP dollars for fiscal year 2006 than in fiscal year 2005.

Although the winter weather has been mild and gas prices have dropped, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) noted that Maine has run out of its LIHEAP funds due to the extreme temperatures in her state.

“It’s still cold up where we live,” said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), adding that the Maine senators were just asking for a “little bit of consideration” from their colleagues.

Inhofe argued that it was “unreasonable” to support the Northeast senators’ request for more LIHEAP monies when they oppose liquefied natural gas terminal projects and other proposed gas infrastructure facilities that would help to solve some of their energy woes.

Coburn said the Senate shouldn’t be in the role of approving extra LIHEAP funds, particularly since the Bush administration has more than enough unspent funds ($11.2 billion) to cover these requests.

Immediately following the vote on the Snowe bill, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced a measure calling for the $1 billion in additional LIHEAP funds to be “distributed more fairly and spread out more evenly” between the Frost Belt states and warmer states in the South and West. The Senate will vote on the Kyl measure at a later time.

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