Trump, DeVos bungle Special Olympics budget

President TrumpDonald John TrumpCampaigns face attack ad dilemma amid coronavirus crisis Outgoing inspector general says Trump fired him for carrying out his 'legal obligations' Trump hits Illinois governor after criticism: 'I hear him complaining all the time' MORE and Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosCoronavirus bill allows DeVos to waive parts of federal special education law: NYT Students with disabilities could lose with COVID-19 stimulus package White House slams pastor leading Cabinet Bible studies for linking homosexuality, coronavirus 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.

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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 BluntGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus Five things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike 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 MurrayTrump administration issues guidance scaling back paid leave requirement for small business employees Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday Senate Democrats propose canceling student loan payments during coronavirus 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.

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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 CartwrightOvernight Energy: Coal industry seeks fee rollbacks amid coronavirus | Ex-lawyer for trophy hunting group joins Trump agency | EPA sued over reapproval of Roundup chemical Coal industry asks for financially beneficial rollbacks amid coronavirus House Democrats jam GOP with coronavirus bill MORE (D-Pa.).

Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryRick Perry asks for elastic donations for his mom, 91, who is sewing face masks The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes unexpected step to stem coronavirus Top National Security Council aide moved to Energy Department role 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 KapturOvernight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain GOP lawmaker accuses administration of 'playing politics' with Yucca Mountain reversal Five things to watch in Trump's budget proposal 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 LoweyHouse Democrats unveil coronavirus economic response package Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins Trump, Congress struggle for economic deal under coronavirus threat 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 PocanWork Share: How to help workers, businesses and states all at once Students with disabilities could lose with COVID-19 stimulus package Overnight Defense: 'Tens of thousands' of National Guard troops could be activated for coronavirus response | Hospital ships could take week to deploy | Trump says military to help Americans stuck in Peru MORE (D-Wis.), who grilled DeVos at the House hearing, jokingly called for someone to “pull Betsy from under the bus.”