Let Them Eat Cake (but don’t let them reheat it)

Don’t kill LIHEAP–fix it.

Much has been made of John McCain’s perhaps too-candid admission that

The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should….I’ve got Greenspan’s book

and that Phil Gramm is his principal advisor on economics. That’s reassuring.

And he’s been especially vocal on spending cuts:

The campaign has also said Mr. McCain would consider cutting the programs that the White House has identified as ineffective, which together make up 10 percent of the budget. The campaign has not specified which ones it would cut. In addition to Amtrak, the list includes various programs dealing with Defense Department communications, veterans’ disability and low-income heating assistance.

That’s a curious way of phrasing it: Under “not performing,” the White House includes those programs found to be “ineffective” and those for which “results not demonstrated.” (You can find out what the White House thinks of the cost-effectiveness of various federal programs at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/expectmore/index.html.) Heating assistance is in the latter category.

The GOP’s distaste for Amtrak is longstanding and well known. Less well publicized is their animus towards poor, largely old, cold people. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a $2B program that helps with heating bills and home weatherization, through block grants to the states. It has a complicated legislative history, and there are legitimate criticisms of the formulae for inter- and intrastate distribution of funds. All of which are amenable to fixing, absent congressional horsetrading and White House intransigence.

For what it’s worth, the White House’s assessment is that

As a block grant that provides maximum flexibility to States, the program faces challenges in developing meaningful performance measures that States can track. While energy trend data indicate that the net effect of this assistance has been to move low income household heating burdens closer to that of all households, the program lacks performance data to assess the outcome(s) of this trend.

So? Collect the performance data and assess the outcome(s). Oh, right, the White House also finds that results are “not demonstrated” for the Energy Information Administration.

I’ve yet to see a call for killing LIHEAP that offers any alternative solution to “let them freeze” other than (a) the states would take care of this on their own if not for federal handouts, (b) it’s a matter for private charity, or (c) if you can’t afford heating oil, don’t live in upstate NY.