CNN — Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told senators on Thursday that she was not personally involved in the decision to propose eliminating funding for the Special Olympics, but continued to defend the cut included in her department’s budget.
Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin raised the issue at a budget hearing, saying that if DeVos hadn’t come up with the cut, the person who did should get “a Special Olympic gold medal for insensitivity.”
As she did earlier in the week, DeVos argued that the Special Olympics doesn’t need federal backing because it’s a private organization that raises money from donations.
“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,” DeVos said Thursday.
She continued, “Let’s not use disabled children in a twisted way for your political narrative. That is just disgusting and it’s shameful, and I think we should move on from that.”
Durbin fired back: “Well Madam Secretary, let me tell you, eliminating $18 million from a $70 or $80 billion budget, I think is shameful, too. I am not twisting it.”
The cut to the Special Olympics is just a proposal and unlikely to be adopted by Congress.
DeVos has proposed the elimination twice before and lawmakers have rejected it, appropriating $17.6 million for the Special Olympics last year as part of an overall funding increase for the department.
The secretary has pointed to the fact that she’s requesting $13.2 billion for grants to states under the department’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and another $225.6 million for teacher preparation, research and technical assistance to support children with disabilities. These requests would maintain level funding for the department’s core special education programs.
Overall, DeVos’ proposed budget would eliminate 29 programs for an annual savings of $6.7 billion. Some are duplicative, have achieved their original purpose, are narrowly focused, or unable to demonstrate their effectiveness, according to a department budget document.
President Donald Trump publicly challenged his Cabinet heads last year to make 5% budget cuts.
At the hearing, DeVos repeated what she told the House committee earlier in the week, saying that Congress has rejected her previous requests to reduce her department’s budget.
“I also acknowledge that it’s easier to keep spending, to keep saying yes, and to keep saddling tomorrow’s generations with today’s growing debts,” she said.