U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos | Gage Skidmore via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
WASHINGTON — U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had another rough day on Capitol Hill.
DeVos, a West Michigan native and former big GOP donor, appeared before a U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Thursday, in which Democrats slammed her requests to slash spending on a host of federal education programs — including funding for the Special Olympics.
Senate Democrats decried DeVos’ proposal to cut $18 million in federal funding for the Special Olympics program as the education secretary accused them of using disabled children for political gain.
Pressed by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on whether she had approved the plan to cut funding for the sports organization, DeVos said the budget process “is a collaborative one” within President Trump’s administration, but she hadn’t personally been involved in that decision.
“Whoever came up with that idea at [the White House budget office] gets a Special Olympic gold medal for insensitivity,” Durbin said.
DeVos — who was already grilled on Special Olympics funding by Democrats at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing Tuesday and sent out a press release defending herself on Wednesday — was prepared for the line of questioning.
“I love Special Olympics myself. I have given a portion of my salary to Special Olympics. I hope all of this debate encourages lots of private contributions to Special Olympics,” she said.
She argued that the administration was forced to make “tough choices” while seeking ways to reduce federal spending, and that the Special Olympics is well-funded by the philanthropic sector.
“Let’s not use disabled children in a twisted way for your political narrative. That is just disgusting and it’s shameful,” DeVos told Durbin.
The Democratic U.S. senator replied that cutting $18 million from a budget that’s roughly $70 billion annually “is shameful. … Someone has to accept responsibility for a bad decision.”
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, said she’s “disappointed that the budget zeroes out funding for Special Olympics education programs.”
She told DeVos, “You said this is about tough choices, but you’re also asking at the same time for more money for charter schools, when you are having trouble spending the increase Congress appropriated for that last year. This is not about tough choices; this is about you prioritizing your agenda over students with special needs.”
Senators on both sides of the aisle acknowledged that the budget proposal isn’t likely to be enacted with the cuts proposed by the Trump administration.
“There are programs here that are unlikely to be eliminated in any final budget,” said U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chair of the Senate subcommittee that oversees education spending.
He noted that the education budget request is similar to what the administration has sent to Congress in the past, and suggested that lawmakers will again largely ignore the deep spending reductions requested by the White House and the Education Department.
“My guess is that the work of the committee will not be that much different from the work of this committee last year,” he said.
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