Betsy DeVos Defunding Special Olympics Is Bad, But Far From Only Horror in Trump Budget

Every time the administration releases a budget, there are one or two items so petty that they seize the public's attention.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has found herself at the center of a budget controversy this week.

Devos’s troubles come from the Trump administration’s 2020 budget request, which was released earlier this month. Eagle-eyed readers have noticed that the Department of Education cut all the funding — about $18 million — that it contributes to the Special Olympics, a sports organization for children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities.

The condemnation has been swift and widespread, with ESPN personalities denouncing it and DeVos getting grilled in a congressional hearing about the cuts on Tuesday. On Wednesday, DeVos released a statement that blamed the media for “misrepresenting the facts” of her cutting all funds for the Special Olympics while at the same time admitting that her budget request does indeed cut all funds for the Special Olympics:

DeVos’s defense of “budget realities” is silly — $18 million is the tiniest of drops in the bucket of yearly federal spending. That she is using it at a time when the Trump administration is cannibalizing funds from other parts of the government to put towards a southern border wall that experts consider at best useless in stopping the flow of drugs and migrants across the border, and at worse counterproductive for its effects on the nation’s relationship with Mexico, makes it even more insulting.

But it might be helpful to note that every time a Republican president releases a budget, there always seems to be one or two line items getting slashed that, for whatever reason, blows up in the media as the symbol of GOP heartlessness.

For example, the Trump administration’s last budget request released a year ago for fiscal year 2019 called for cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by 27.4 percent. Two years ago, proposed cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts, which would have devastated cultural organizations such as symphonies, drew a firestorm.

This year’s budget request, like the previous ones, also calls for massive cuts that would by far fall the hardest on the poor and vulnerable. There are cuts to SNAP, to Medicaid, and on and on.

This also happens whenever a GOP-controlled Congress releases a proposed budget. When he led the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan was infamous for writing budgets that would slash food aid to the poor and needy, and then getting very defensive and angry when anyone pointed this fact out to him.

What is important to remember is that these requests are just that: requests. Congress will be writing the actual appropriations bills that are used to disburse money to governmental departments like the Department of Education. It is the rare member of Congress who will want to be called out as the defunder of the Special Olympics. And if Congress puts a line item funding the organization in an appropriations bill, Betsy DeVos cannot by law spend that money on something else. That is how most of the cuts Trump proposes every year wind up not happening.

This is not to defend DeVos’s request, which is petty, small and unnecessary. And if a budget request is a statement of an administration’s priorities and morals, then this is a good reminder that this administration is one in which, as the writer Adam Serwer has put it, “the cruelty is the point.”

But it is good to keep some perspective. There are plenty of proposed cuts in every budget request to protest. And all of them hurt someone in this country in some way. We should spare some outrage for all of them.

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Gary Legum has written about politics and culture for Independent Journal Review, Salon, The Daily Beast, Wonkette, AlterNet and McSweeney's, among others. He currently lives in his native state of Virginia.

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