Reid 'not a big fan' of president's proposed cut to energy assistance

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Friday he is highly skeptical of a proposal by President Obama’s administration to cut $2.5 billion in heating and cooling assistance for the poor.

Obama’s budget, which he plans to submit to Congress on Monday, reportedly includes a proposal to cut $2.5 billion from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

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“LIHEAP is a program that’s important,” Reid told reporters in a conference call. “It’s important to our constituencies for many different reasons. In Nevada, we have very difficult times in the southern part of the state in the summertime because of the intense heat.

“I personally am not a big fan of cutting what we’ve done with LIHEAP,” he added. “I think we do some very good things for the people that are the poorest of the poor.”

Reid said Obama’s proposal to freeze discretionary domestic spending for five years is “a good place to start” but that Congress would carefully review spending levels for various programs.

“We can adjust things up and down,” Reid said. “If a program works we can keep that the way it is, add to it. If it doesn’t work, get rid of it.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who joined Reid on the call, had previously called a Republican proposal to cut home energy assistance an “extreme idea.”

Schumer did not chime in on Obama’s proposal during the call.

Reid and Schumer focused their discussion with reporters on news that Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) had called government shutdown a “possibility.”

Simpson, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and one of House Speaker John Boehner’s (Ohio) closest friends, also said that Republicans would do “everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Reid and Schumer called on House Republican leaders to rule out definitively a shutdown.

“This is not some freshman lawmaker who went off the script,” Schumer said. “This is a senior Republican, a subcommittee chairman on the House Appropriations Committee. Do the House Republican leaders agree with Chairman Simpson that a shutdown may happen?”

Reid and Schumer warned a government shutdown would have a debilitating effect on the economy. For example, it could leave billions of dollars in trade cargo languishing in ports.

Schumer said House Republican leaders are unable to withstand pressure from conservative Tea Party-backed freshmen.

“There is a mad rush to the far right on the House side right now,” Schumer said. “The House leadership seems to be unable to stand up to their freshman conservatives on either the drastic levels of cuts they want or their desire to shut down the government to get their way.”

Reid said that “it’s interesting to see the disarray the Republicans have,” in reference to several setbacks House GOP leaders had on the floor because of rebellious conservative freshmen.

The leaders said they would be willing to consider several short-term stop-gap spending measures to avoid a government shutdown. But they said a continuing resolution lasting to the end of the fiscal year would be better because it would give certainty to businesses.