CNN's Jack Cafferty used one of his Monday “Cafferty File” segments to denounce the Bush administration for opposing the expansion of the S-CHIP program, and now threatening to veto spending for home energy assistance, while pushing more money for Iraq. An exasperated Cafferty: “No money for kids' health insurance, no money to help poor families pay their heating bills, but President Bush wants $190 billion additional for 2008 for his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Cafferty contended “thirty million of the poorest Americans will be left in the cold this winter because a government program that's supposed to help pay their heating bills doesn't have enough money” and yet “the Bush administration wants to cut the program's budget. No heat for the poor people. Starting to sound familiar, isn't it? Remember a couple of weeks ago President Bush went into a closed office, shut the door, no reporters, vetoed a health bill to provide health insurance for kids.”
Cafferty's loaded question in the 7pm EDT hour of The Situation Room:
When it comes to American citizens, you really have to wonder what President Bush's priorities are. Where do the citizens of this country fit into his game plan? Hundred and ninety billion for the wars, cut the heating bill budget, veto the kids' health insurance. The question is the Bush administration doesn't have enough money to help poor families pay for heat this winter, but they want $190 billion for the Iraq war. What's your reaction to that?
All of the e-mailed replies Cafferty read later in the hour agreed with his disgust toward the administration's priorities, most colorfully illustrated by Bob in California: “It's been clear since the Bush administration kidnaped the White House in 2000, they don't give a damn about ordinary Americans. Let the Katrina victims drop dead, let the 47 million uninsured Americans drop dead, let the poor in unheated homes drop dead, let the children whose government health coverage is being terminated drop dead. What's it matter to them?”
For his numbers on the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which now stands at $2.16 billion annually, Cafferty cited a Friday Reuters story, “Government money short to help poor pay heating bills,” by Tom Doggett.
Fretting about a supposed lack of adequate LIHEAP funding is an old standby for the media. A couple of examples out of the MRC's archive. From the February 1993 MediaWatch:
Fuel Fraud. On the December 30  CBS Evening News, John Roberts reported from Boston: "As winter sets in, parents must choose between paying for heat and paying for food." Roberts explained: "Across the country, millions of people rely on the federal government for help with their heating bills, through LIHEAP, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. But in recent years, that program has been cut 25 percent, while at the same time, the number of people needing assistance has increased." He also interviewed two mothers with hungry children, one of whom complained that she was running out of fuel.
But where is the evidence for the so-called "heat-or-eat syndrome"? Heritage Foundation analyst Carl Horowitz called this a "false choice," citing the 26.3 million Americans who receive food stamps, not to mention Medicaid, AFDC, and housing subsidies. The Department of Health and Human Services, which administers LIHEAP, does not track the number of people needing assistance, and though spending on LIHEAP declined somewhat from 1991 to 1993 (less than the 25 percent Roberts claimed), spending steadily increased for the program from 1988 to 1991. But Roberts only had time for the liberal line: "Those lobbying for maintaining fuel funds say for every cut in the program, there is an added social cost."
From the January 23, 2003 MRC CyberAlert, “ABC Blames Bush for Impact of 'Proposed' Spending Cut”
The omnipotent President George W. Bush and OMB Director Mitch Daniels. Harking back to a Reagan era-like media focus on the victims of phantom budget cuts, ABC's Ron Claiborne on Wednesday night blamed Bush for forcing a poor elderly woman to have to choose between paying her mortgage and paying for home heating oil so she can "stay warm."
But Claiborne added a twist. He claimed the four million people who get energy assistance subsidies "are receiving less money this year" because of the Bush administration's "proposed cut" in the program. So the cut is only "proposed," yet it has already gone into effect? The Bush people really are improving government efficiency!
Filing a story from Boston for the January 22 World News Tonight, Claiborne noted how the cost of home heating oil has risen 23 percent since last winter. Naturally, he focused on the plight of an old woman who, Claiborne relayed, says she must use money from the mortgage payment to buy oil in order "to stay warm."
Claiborne charged: "The Lees are among four million Americans on federal home energy assistance who are receiving less money this year because of the Bush administration's proposed cut of $300 million in the program. This week the Senate voted to restore the funds, but that money may not reach those who need it for weeks."
I have no idea what the reality is here, but if the "cuts" occurred they are not just "proposed cuts" and if they are just "proposed cuts" then they haven't really occurred. And usually what the media describe as "cuts" really are not and are just reductions in the rate of increase. But even assuming the cuts are real and actually lowered spending in real terms, must the federal government pay for everything? Even at a lower level the recipients are still getting payments.
And this was hardly the first time Cafferty contrasted domestic spending with money for Iraq. My August 2 NewsBusters item reported:
CNN's Jack Cafferty on Thursday exploited the Minneapolis bridge collapse tragedy to take a shot at the Iraq war as he proposed the money "pouring into Iraq" could be better spent "at home," and featured an e-mailer who complained spending on infrastructure is "a drop in the bucket compared to $450 billion wasted in Iraq." Cafferty's question during the 7pm EDT hour of The Situation Room: "In light of the Minnesota bridge collapse, how could the U.S. better spend the $2 billion a week that we're pouring into Iraq here at home?"
The October 4 MRC CyberAlert recounted:
CNN's Jack Cafferty, in his 5pm EDT hour "Cafferty File" segment on Wednesday's The Situation Room, offered a loaded question involving President Bush's veto of a proposed expansion of the SCHIP program: "President Bush has increased the national debt by trillions of dollars. Why would he veto a bill providing health insurance for children?" Before he asked that question, Cafferty detailed how President Bush's veto of SCHIP "was cast very quietly this morning behind closed doors. No fanfare, no news coverage," and the reasons the President listed for his veto. He then added that "this is the same man who will soon go to Congress and ask for another $190 billion to continue that glorious war in Iraq."
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth checked CNN's transcript against the video to provide this rundown of the segments in the 7pm EDT hour of the October 22 Situation Room, with “LEAVING THE POOR IN THE COLD” as the on-screen header:
JACK CAFFERTY: Here's some more great news. Thirty million, 30 million of the poorest Americans will be left in the cold this winter because a government program that's supposed to help pay their heating bills doesn't have enough money. This is compassionate conservatism, boys and girls. Reuters reports that the Low Income Home Energy Assistant Program only has enough money to cover 16 percent of the 38 million households that are eligible. Its budget of about $2 billion is only $300 million more than when the program was created by the Congress 25 years ago. Yet, despite higher energy costs, the Bush administration wants to cut the program's budget. No heat for the poor people. Starting to sound familiar, isn't it? Remember a couple of weeks ago President Bush went into a closed office, shut the door, no reporters, vetoed a health bill to provide health insurance for kids.
No money for kids' health insurance, no money to help poor families pay their heating bills, but President Bush wants $190 billion additional for 2008 for his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the President's new request means the cost of the Iraq war is now approaching $650 billion. I wonder if the Democrats will give him the money. They always do, don't they, despite promises to do something about the war before the midterm election. I got an e-mail from a viewer, said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a sheep in sheep's clothing. So here's the question. So here's the question: When it comes to American citizens, you really have to wonder what President Bush's priorities are. Where do the citizens of this country fit into his game plan? Hundred and ninety billion for the wars, cut the heating bill budget, veto the kids' health insurance. The question is the Bush administration doesn't have enough money to help poor families pay for heat this winter, but they want $190 billion for the Iraq war. What's your reaction to that? E-mail CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. That was a pretty funny line, the sheep in sheep's clothing.
BLITZER: Yeah, we've got a lot of creative e-mailers out there, Jack. Thanks very much.
The replies, about 45 minutes later:
BLITZER: You know those stories of those heroes, this guy, Murphy in Afghanistan, you know, it's painful to have to hear that, but these are the guys who are doing the work out there, the heavy lifting.
JACK CAFFERTY: Yeah, and you just wonder what it's all for, don't you, sometimes, what exactly we're accomplishing over there, as these young people like that young man, their lives get cut short in the pursuit of what, I'm not exactly sure.
The question this hour, the Bush administration says it doesn't have enough money to fund a federal program that's supposed to help poor families pay for heat this winter, but they want $190 billion for the war in Iraq, and we asked what your reaction to that was. And we got an earful.
Robert writes from Florida: "It's not the same country I grew up in. We believed you took care of Americans, war or no war. If we had to fight, we bought war bonds to help pay for it. Taxes were raised on those who could afford to pay more. This President doesn't care about regular Americans, and cares too much about a war of choice, his choice. I'm not quite as proud to be an American as I used to be."
Donna writes: "Typical Bush arrogance, truly shows what a fine upstanding Christian he is. I'd write more, but my cold arthritic fingers won't let me."
John in Virginia: "I'm not sure what you're railing about. If the poor people want heat, let them join up and go to Iraq."
Bob in California: "It's been clear since the Bush administration kidnapped the White House in 2000, they don't give a damn about ordinary Americans. Let the Katrina victims drop dead, let the 47 million uninsured Americans drop dead, let the poor in unheated homes drop dead, let the children whose government health coverage is being terminated drop dead. What's it matter to them?"
C.J., Jacksonville, Florida: "My only comment is we Americans are stupid, and Lincoln was wrong when he said you can't fool all the people all the time. Bush has pulled it off pretty well."
Finally, Sandy in Michigan writes: "Jack, and you say it's getting ugly out there. Looks to me like it's already ugly out there. Maybe you can write a sequel to your book. Call it How Much Uglier Can It Get?"
If you didn't see your email here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. We post more of them online, along with video clips of the Cafferty File. Wolf?
BLITZER: They're angry out there. There's no doubt about that, Jack. Thanks very much. See you back here tomorrow.