We’ve seen today that Democrats are just as committed to near-term budget cuts as Republicans. They may want them in different areas, they may want to cancel out different programs or tax expenditures, but they’re happy to do them and right away. Multiple Democrats in the Senate have expressed a desire for cuts in the FY2011 budget. And the Obama Administration’s 2012 budget will have substantial cuts as well, though also some investments. OMB Director Jack Lew previewed this earlier in the week with examples of cuts to environmental protection of the Great Lakes and community development grants. We learned about one more today.

President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget will cut several billion dollars from the government’s energy assistance fund for poor people, officials briefed on the subject told National Journal.

It’s the biggest domestic spending cut disclosed so far, and one that will likely generate the most heat from the president’s traditional political allies. That would satisfy the White House, which has a vested interest in convincing Americans that it is serious about budget discipline.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, would see funding drop by about $3 billion from an authorized 2009 total of $5.1 billion. The proposed cut will not touch the program’s emergency reserve fund, about $590 million, which can be used during particularly harsh cold snaps or extended heat spells, three officials told National Journal.

Emphasis mine. This is all a game at some level, but notice how the White House hopes this will play out: they want those “irresponsible” Democrats to scream at them. Then they can “prove” to some mythical voter that he’s not really “one of them” and that he proposes serious solutions to serious problems. Solutions like letting poor people freeze. But at the end of the day, proposing things like this will force more budget cuts, especially when you have the nutters on the right who want to eliminate $500 billion in a year.

The Administration says this lowers LIHEAP assistance to where it was in 2008. But that was before an economic crisis and an increase in poverty. Simply put, more people need this service now. They also intimate this is a subsidy for dirty energy companies, as most heating gets derived from coal-fired power plants. This is a bizarre kind of statement, which assumes that there’s no way to move away from coal and make sure Americans don’t freeze in their homes at the same time.

I’m willing to wait to see the entire budget before making a full assessment – there are reportedly some investments as well – but these are bad signs.

David Dayen

David Dayen