TPM is reporting that Sen. Susan Collins may have deleted low-income heating assistance funding from the stimulus bill. They note that $1 billion in funding that was present in the House version was not present in either the Senate version or the latest draft of the consensus bill, both of which Collins had a major role in negotiating.
TPM reported yesterday (with an anonymous source) that Collins watered-down and killed an accountability measure in the bill that would have protected federal employees who blew the whistle on government waste.
The Maine GOP recently called for a one-day special session to redirect $10 million to increase funding for LIHEAP, and were joined in their request by at least one Green-Independent Senate candidate, who is running ads on the issue on Portland radio. Governor Baldacci is considering the idea. As Senate President Beth Edmonds notes in that article, however, it's really just a political stunt; the issue can be addressed more effectively in December when the new legislature is seated. The Bangor Daily News editorial board agrees.
At the same time, the Public Utilities Commission is taking steps to increase emergency assistance for low-income residents who use electric heat, and Senator Snowe is meeting with community groups in Eastern and Northern Maine to gauge the need for increased assistance.
The group that could do the most to fix this problem is the United States Congress, which provides the bulk of LIHEAP's funding. Unfortunately, when a bill for $2.5 billion in increased funding recently came up for a vote, it was filibustered by Senate Republicans. Snowe and Collins voted for the measure, but failed to get their colleagues to come along.
Looks like the best antidote to a cold winter may be 60 Democratic votes in the Senate.
Maine Democrats hit McCain on an issue close to home during his trip to southern Maine yesterday, staging an event in Portland on the issue of home energy and promoting a report listing four times that McCain has voted against the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides help to 46,000 households in Maine.
House Speaker Glenn Cummings had this quote in the Portland Press Herald:
"Having voted time and again to deny home heating assistance to Mainers in need, it is clear that John McCain is out of touch with the challenges facing Maine families."