Political Respite: GOP As Good As Ever
By A.D. Freudenheim

4 November 2001

Just so that no one gets too trapped in the delusion that while America focuses on its new two-front war all other political activity ceases, try focusing your attention on Wade Horn, the assistant secretary for children and families in the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Mr. Wade's branch of HHS has refused to release some $500 million originally allocated to help poor families pay for heating costs under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a federal fund specifically created for this purpose. Arguing that because a milder winter is anticipated this year, along with lower overall fuel costs, Mr. Horn told a Senate panel recently that the government should take a wait-and-see approach. As reported by the Associated Press, Mr. Horn said that he expects heating bills to be $170-$320 lower this winter than last year.[1]

Maybe what is shocking about this is how much it isn't shocking. On the one hand, Horn's statements are not all that off-base, if current oil prices are any indication: they have recently dipped below $20 a barrel. With the U.S. in a recession, and fewer Americans traveling - because of security concerns as much as an decline in business - overall demand for oil is lower and prices have fallen. At the same time, however, the Bush administration is warning that because of the U.S.' new war, the location of the war itself, and the complications it is creating with many of the Arab countries from whom we purchase significant amounts of oil, there is still a great need to protect our assets - to stock up on oil, as a preventative measure, and to push further with oil drilling in native sources such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, just a little more than a week ago, Mr. Bush was quoted as saying "Oh, I understand energy prices are low right now. Thank goodness. But that shouldn't lead our nation to complacency. We need to be more self-reliant and self-sufficient."[2]

If the U.S. is in a recession, and thousands of people have been laid off, then is it not also likely that more people will have trouble paying their heating bill this winter, rather than fewer? If the anticipation is that oil prices will rise, regardless of the reason, and the Bush administration is itself warning that we should prepare for such a possibility, then would it not make sense to begin providing some financial relief to those families who may not have paid off bills from last winter - when prices were sky-high - rather than wait until there is a crisis (again) this winter? The money is there - it was allocated under a previous budget, for this specific function. What is the problem?

Mr. Horn's wait-and-see approach is consistent with the conservative zeal for reducing federal spending. It could also force millions of families to borrow money to pay for these basic needs, which in a recession also means people are more likely to default on loans or payments, more likely to face homeless or other kinds of poverty, more likely to have to choose between paying for heat and paying for food. Perhaps when it suggests that Americans must become more "self-reliant and self-sufficient," Mr. Bush and his administration are interested in seeing what happens when people become self-reliant out of desperation, deprived of basic necessities that could have been provided all along.

[1] "Bush Hasn't Released Heating Aid," Melissa B. Robinson,
Associated Press Wire Service, 30 October 2001
[2] "Bush Argues for Tax Relief, Trade and Energy Plans,"
Steve Holland, Reuters Wire Service, 26 October 2001
Copyright 2001, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
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