Recently, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to ten U.S. energy companies awash in big fat piles of cash. He asked them to voluntarily donate 10% of their recent windfall profits to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal program that helps poor Americans pay their heating bills. (This winter, natural gas prices are expected to jump 61% in the Midwest, and heating oil nearly 30% in the Northeast.)

The Bushies don’t think that’s a good idea :

The Bush administration opposes a Republican request that oil companies donate some of their record profits to a federal fund to help poor Americans pay winter heating bills because it sounds too much like a tax, Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said on Wednesday.

It sounds too much like a tax. A request that companies voluntarily chip in to help poor people sounds too much like a %$@#! tax.

And how else, I ask you, is a federal program to subsidize heat for poor people to be funded? Fairy dust?

Bodman thinks helping poor people heat their homes is a waste of money — instead, he wants to increase refining capacity.

“Obviously, the industry has made a lot of money. They have a responsibility to the American people to build new refining capacity,” Bodman said.

Joe Barton goes further — he’s on the verge of making oil companies an offer they can’t refuse.

Later, Rep. Joe Barton, head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said it would be an “excellent idea” for [Exxon CEO Lee] Raymond to announce a major expansion project at the [upcoming Congressional hearing on oil company profits].

You hear that, Raymond? An excellent idea. Don’t make us spell it out for you.

Lemme ask you: If increasing refinery capacity made economic sense for oil companies, why would Republicans need to beg them and subsidize them and ease environmental regulations for them? Why wouldn’t they just do it? Could it be that having tight supply drives energy prices up and benefits said companies?

The House has offered to cough up $1 billion for LIHEAP — but they put it into the draconian spending-cut bill they’re voting on soon, the one that would slash Medicaid and housing vouchers. Thanks a lot. Poor people won’t be able to afford to go to the doctor, but they’ll be a little warmer!

Bodman says that, yeah, maybe the White House would consider the whole helping-poor-people thing. But you can tell he has other ideas.

Bodman said the White House was considering several proposals to address high energy prices. Such options include more federal funding for LIHEAP, opening new areas to offshore oil drilling, and creating emergency stockpiles of U.S. natural gas and refined products, he said.

Opening new areas to offshore oil drilling. I’m sure poor freezing people will appreciate that this winter. Should heat them right up.

Remind us again why taking a little oil-company profit to help poor people stay warm isn’t a good idea?

A windfall profit tax was briefly in place in the 1980s. “It did not achieve anything except some short-term satisfaction. It did not work economically,” Bodman said.

Yeah, you could call it "short-term satisfaction." Or you could call it "staying fucking warm." Either way, I’m sure it "works economically" for the people who aren’t freezing to death.

A while back, I noted with some amusement Hillary Clinton’s attempts to propose a fund that would ease this winter’s heating costs and fund clean-energy projects, paid for by oil-company profits. She went to baroque lengths to avoid calling it a tax on oil companies.

I took this to be a reflection of how utterly dysfunctional political dialogue in this country has become.

I had no idea.