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GOP blocks aid for heating expenses

Republicans on Saturday blocked the Senate from considering a bill this week that would nearly double federal aid to help the poor pay heating and air-conditioning bills.

Although a dozen Senate Republicans support the measure, most voted with GOP leaders calling for a vote on a measure to expand offshore oil drilling before Congress takes six weeks off for vacation and the presidential nominating conventions.

“The American resources on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts contain 14 billion barrels at a minimum … more than we have imported from the Persian Gulf in the last 15 years,” said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.

Democrats needed 60 votes to substitute the measure on heating and air-conditioning aid in place of the debate on an expansion of offshore drilling championed by President Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain. They got 50 votes Saturday, with 35 Republicans voting against changing the topic.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., the only Carolinas senator who voted Saturday, voted against the motion.

“Do we vote to keep the old, the sick and kids alive when the weather gets cold or very, very hot, or do we spend money on people who make huge campaign contributions? That is part of what this debate is about,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont.

The government is devoting $2.6 billion in subsidies for helping people with low incomes pay heating and air-conditioning bills this year. Sanders' bill would nearly double that to $5.1 billion.

While Senate Democrats said they hoped to pass it soon, Democrats in the House were looking at the subsidies for anchoring a second economic aid bill they want to push in September, closer to the November election.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is against letting the House vote on offshore drilling. She and Democratic leaders in the Senate also have shut down normal summer work on spending bills to prevent offshore drilling from getting a legislative footing in the appropriations committees.

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