President TrumpDonald John TrumpChinese, US negotiators fine tuning details of trade agreement: report Iran wants America out of Iraq; will it succeed? Florida bar reverses no-hat policy after objections from MAGA hat wearer MORE and Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosThe Hill’s Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump rallies for second term on `promises kept’ On The Money: Wells Fargo CEO steps down | Trump vows to keep funding for Special Olympics | House panel approves marijuana banking bill | Controversial Fed pick gains support in Senate DeVos says she fought ‘behind the scenes’ for Special Olympics funding MORE stumbled this week in explaining the administration’s proposed budget cuts to the Special Olympics.
In two separate congressional hearings, DeVos found herself defending the cuts in Trump’s 2020 spending request, only to have the president turn around and denounce his own proposal.
The contrasting positions played out amid a backdrop of lawmakers grilling agency chiefs about draconian cuts to popular government programs, leaving administration officials with the choice of defending the spending reductions or disagreeing with Trump, who is known to prize loyalty among his Cabinet members.
DeVos went before appropriators to defend the administration’s proposal to slash $8.5 billion, or 12 percent, from the education budget.
“It eliminates 30 programs, it significantly reduces funding for several others,” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntHouse GOP leader says he opposes Special Olympics cuts DeVos defends Special Olympics cuts at Senate hearing Joe Kennedy III: Cuts to Special Olympics ‘will never happen’ MORE (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that covers education. “There are programs here that are unlikely to be eliminated in any final budget.”
Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care — Presented by the American Conservative Union — ObamaCare enrollment dips slightly to 11.4M signups for 2019 | Dem support grows for allowing public funds to pay for abortions | House to hold hearing on surprise medical bills House Dems to hold hearing on preventing surprise medical bills Overnight Health Care: Senators seek CBO input on preventing surprise medical bills | Oversight panel seeks OxyContin documents | Pharmacy middlemen to testify on prices | Watchdog warns air ambulances can put patients at ‘financial risk’ MORE (Wash.), the top Democrat on the committee, drove the point home more aggressively.
“Your budget request fails to invest in our youngest learners, our students in public schools,” she said. “It fails to help students who are struggling to better themselves in higher education, and it fails student loan borrowers who are saddled with debt.”
DeVos responded by saying tough fiscal times called for tough fiscal measures.
“We had to make tough choices and decisions around budget priorities,” she told senators.
But appropriators seized on the $18 million cut for the Special Olympics, the world’s largest sporting event for adults with disabilities. Trump has proposed cutting funding to it in each of his three annual budget proposals.
“I have given a portion of my salary to Special Olympics. I hope all of this debate inspires private contributions to Special Olympics,” DeVos said, arguing that the program could make up the government shortfall through charitable donations.
When pressed, she said she did not know how many children might be impacted by the cuts, a figure Democrats put at 272,000.
The spectacle set off waves of negative headlines and reactions, including from the Special Olympics chairman and ESPN personalities. With no signs to change course from the White House, DeVos maintained her position from Tuesday’s House hearing at the follow-up Senate hearing on Thursday.
But DeVos was not the only member of the administration forced to defend Trump’s budget in front of angry lawmakers.
Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget plan calls for slashing domestic spending by as much as 9 percent, with many of the cuts targeted at key programs. It suggested shaving a third off the Environmental Protection Agency, axing nearly a quarter from the State Department, and lopping off more than a fifth from the Department of Transportation, which oversees much of the nation’s federal infrastructure.
In a hearing on the National Science Foundation (NSF), the country’s leading non-medical research organization, Director France A. Córdova thanked the committee for record-high funding in 2019, and she reminded members that previous funding had led to major achievements, including technologies necessary for smartphones, weather radars and even sign language. She proceeded to defend a proposed 12 percent budget cut as a contribution toward deficit reduction.
“Why would anyone in the world want to cut NSF funding given that its funding drives our economy, enhances our national security and advances this nation’s leadership globally?” asked Rep. Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightHouse Dems, GOP slam Trump’s proposed NSF cuts The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Supreme Court justice warns Congress of security threats to lower courts MORE (D-Pa.).
Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryUS firms secretly approved for Saudi Arabia nuclear work: report Overnight Defense: Pentagon transfers B for wall over Dem objections | Top general says North Korean activities ‘inconsistent’ with denuclearization | Pentagon details bases at risk from climate change Overnight Energy: Senate blocks Green New Deal | 43 Dems vote present | GOP senator criticizes deal with poster of Reagan riding a dinosaur | 2020 Dem hopeful Hickenlooper comes out against Green New Deal MORE, meanwhile, defended an 11 percent cut to his budget by saying, “Success will be measured not by the dollars spent but by the results achieved.”
Rep. Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturTrump contradicts his own budget proposal, tells rally crowd he’ll give more money for Great Lakes restoration Overnight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans House Dems call on leadership to prioritize opioid epidemic MORE (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies, told him the budget request “is riddled with backward looking proposals.” She pointed to cuts in energy efficiency programs, a $1 billion reduction in energy research and the elimination of weatherization programs.
Democrats fumed over the proposed elimination of entities like the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyPelosi vows to go after Trump’s wall via appropriations process Pompeo says US to expand ban on foreign aid to groups that provide or promote abortion Stop asking parents to sacrifice Social Security benefits for paid family leave MORE (D-N.Y.) called Trump’s spending proposal “devastating” and pointed to “deep cuts in investments in clean energy, mental health services, after-school programs and much more.”
For administration officials like DeVos, this week’s experience highlights the challenge of defending Trump’s spending priorities without any guarantee he will back them up.
At one point, DeVos attempted to push back on her congressional critics.
“Let’s not use disabled children in a twisted way for your political narrative, that is just disgusting and shameful and I think we should move on from that,” she said at the Senate hearing.
But when reporters asked Trump about the proposed cuts, he distanced himself from the matter — two days after DeVos’s initial testimony and after her second congressional hearing.
“I have overridden my people,” he said.” We’re funding the Special Olympics.”
DeVos then released a statement saying she and Trump “see eye-to-eye” on the issue.
Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanBetsy DeVos defends Special Olympics budget cuts: ‘We had to make some difficult decisions’ Lawmaker presses DeVos for ‘personal opinion’ on LGBTQ discrimination Two lawmakers just debated the merits of Nickelback on the House floor MORE (D-Wis.), who grilled DeVos at the House hearing, jokingly called for someone to “pull Betsy from under the bus.”