WASHINGTON – Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ignited a firestorm with her proposal to eliminate federal funding for the Special Olympics, but something has been largely overlooked amid the furor.
The cuts are unlikely to happen. Ever.
Here are five things you should know about the federal budget and the Special Olympics controversy:
‘Get rid of the fat’
DeVos’ proposed $17.6 million cut for the Special Olympics was included in the $4.75 trillion federal budget that President Donald Trump’s administration sent to Congress earlier this month.
It’s not just Special Olympics facing the budget ax.
Trump seeks dramatic across-the-board spending cuts to domestic programs for the coming fiscal year. An exception: the military, which would get a 5 percent increase under his proposal.
“Get rid of the fat, get rid of the waste,” Trump instructed his Cabinet.
Why target Special Olympics?
DeVos said she had to make some hard decisions after the president demanded across-the-board cuts.
For DeVos, a supporter of school choice, those decisions meant eliminating federal funding for Special Olympics – a program designed to help children and adults with disabilities – while spending millions more on charter schools.
The education secretary explained her rationale by saying the Special Olympics is a private organization – not a federal program – that is better supported by philanthropy.
“I love its work, and I have personally supported its mission,” she said. “But given our current budget realities, the federal government cannot fund every worthy program, particularly ones that enjoy robust support from private donations.”
It’s not the first time DeVos targeted the Special Olympics. She has proposed eliminating funding for the program in her two previous budget proposals. Both times, the proposal went nowhere.
Why the outrage?
Supporters of the Special Olympics were predictably furious over the proposed cuts.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who’s seeking the Democratic nomination for president, called the cuts “unbelievable” and promised to “get our national proprieties straight” if he gets to the White House.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., labeled the proposed cuts “appalling” and said she couldn’t understand why DeVos would go after disabled children in her budget.
Timothy Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics International, said the work the federal money supports is “critical” to education and that the lessons taught in schools through Education Department-funded programs “are critically the responsibility not just of the volunteer sector but of our elected leaders.”
So the cuts won’t happen?
Probably not. Because the president’s budget is just a proposal, a way for the administration to spell out its spending priorities for the coming year.
Lawmakers have their own ideas about how federal dollars should be spent, and since they seldom line up closely with the president’s vision, Congress usually shelves the president’s budget proposal and writes its own.
The process becomes even more complicated when an opposing party is in charge, as it is this year. Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi control the House for the first time in eight years, while Republicans still hold the Senate and the White House.
Trump’s budget was basically dead the moment it arrived at Congress. And, given the political support that the Special Olympics has in Congress, there’s virtually no chance that lawmakers will let the proposed cuts to the program stand.
So what happens next?
Various congressional committees are holding hearings on the president’s budget proposal. DeVos, in fact, appeared before a House subcommittee this week to defend the administration’s proposals to cut funding from education programs.
The House and the Senate will each try to pass their own version of the budget before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. Then negotiators from the two chambers will piece together the final spending plan that Congress will send to the president.
Trump must either sign the budget or veto it. If he vetoes the bill, Congress will start over and try to come up with a budget that will win presidential approval.
A presidential veto has its risks, though. Failure to reach a consensus on the budget could lead to another government shutdown – a prospect that the White House and Congress want to avoid after the fiasco of the 35-day government shutdown earlier this year.
More: Cuts to Special Olympics draw fire: What we know now about Betsy DeVos’ plan