Congress took off for recess last week without approving any money to help poor Americans pay their heating bills this winter.

On four separate occasions, a majority of senators voted in favor of more money for heating subsidies, but under the budget rules, passage requires a supermajority, which could not be mustered. The House managed to ignore the issue almost entirely.

The intended beneficiaries of the subsidies include millions of low-income Americans who are old and disabled, as well as poor families with children. People who cannot afford heat often face risky decisions: Heat or food? Heat or medicine? Legimate heat, or oven flames or dangerous kerosene heaters?

There are at least two chances for Congress to act when it returns in mid-December. It can include the $5 billion in affected subsidies in the coming spending bill for the Health and Human Services Department. Or it can add the money to the president's emergency spending request, even though he didn't ask for it.