Finley: Cut Special Olympics funds, and more

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

The reason America will never again balance the federal budget nor whittle away at its towering $22 trillion national debt was revealed last week during a hearing of the House Education Committee. 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the budget on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was invited in to explain how she intended to make the $7 billion in cuts demanded of her department by President Donald Trump.

Among the items sacrificed to achieve the 10 percent funding rollback was a $17.6 million line item for the Special Olympics, a private charity that brings sports to the disabled. 

BOOM! The outrage went viral. This billionaire tool of the heartless Trump administration wanted to steal the joy from physically and mentally challenged athletes.

As soon as the heat turned up, Trump restored the funding. He shouldn't have.

No doubt the Special Olympics is a worthy and fabulous program that brings often marginalized citizens into the mainstream. But is it a core function of the federal government? Nope.

It's a laudable nonprofit that should — and could — be funded by philanthropy. (I'm betting DeVos' threatened cut triggered a tidal wave of private giving. I made my first donation to the Michigan group last week.)

We should be asking the core function question about every expenditure. That's the only route to a balanced budget.

If we did, the Education Department itself would go. Formed in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, the department consumes $71 billion a year, without improving the educational achievement of America's children.

Nor has it closed the education gap between rich and poor students, one of the department's top priorities. A recent study by Stanford University's Hoover Institution found that despite spending $500 billion on compensatory education and $250 billion on Head Start, the income-based disparity is unchanged since 1980.

Yet the senators dicing up DeVos never asked about the department's performance, or whether taxpayers are getting their money's worth. Congress measures the success of a government program based on increases in funding, not by results achieved.

Trump and DeVos should have zeroed out the entire Education Department budget and sent the money back to local school districts, where it has a far better chance of making it into the classroom.  

The response to the Special Olympics cut illustrates what we're up against in trying to shrink the size and cost of the federal government. Every dollar has a constituency. Every program is vital to someone.

And yet we have to start cutting somewhere. Perhaps we should make the deficit more personal. 

Every computer screen in America should have the debt clock running in a corner of the screen. 

Watch those number soar at the rate of $20,000 per blink of the eye. Pay particular attention to your share of the debt, now at more than $67,000 per citizen and $180,000 per actual taxpayer. The supersonic speed at which we're racking up debt should grab your attention.

And the realization of how much of that obligation belongs to you should at least cause you to think before demanding the federal government put the cost of all those programs you want on the credit card for your children and grandchildren to pay off.

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.