Stupak says Obama not out for revenge; other lawmakers also see pet programs targeted in budget cuts
By Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane
President Obama's proposal to abolish a scholarship program named after the late son of Democratic congressman Bart Stupak was not an act of retaliation, Stupak said Tuesday.
As it turns out, the B.J. Stupak Olympic Scholarship Program is a perennial target of budget cutters from both parties who don't understand the program's importance, he said.
"President Bush proposed to eliminate it, too," Stupak (D-Mich.) said in an interview. Besides, he said, Obama "should have been rewarding me, not punishing me" for holding up a House vote on the health-care bill last fall by insisting on adding an amendment that would bar the use of federal funds for abortion. "Without the Stupak amendment," the congressman said, "health care wouldn't have passed the House."
Stupak was responding to questions about a line in Obama's budget that proposes to wipe out $1 million in annual funding for the scholarship, which was renamed to honor Stupak's teenage son, who committed suicide in an incident the family believes was linked to his use of the acne drug Accutane. Stupak said the grant program provides college grants to Olympic hopefuls whose farflung competition schedules leave them unable to attend classes regularly and therefore ineligible for regular college grants. In Stupak's northern Michigan district, they are also likely to be competing in winter sports that rarely attract college scholarships.
"No one's going to give me a scholarship for doing luge. Or bobsled," Stupak said. "Why shouldn't these kids get scholarships? Hell, they represent our country."
Stupak said he would fight to maintain funding for the program, especially with the winter Olympics coming up later this month. "We're all going to be cheering our heads off," he said. "Can't we at least help these kids get an education?"
Rank-and-file lawmakers weren't the only ones to see projects close to their hearts targeted for eliminated.
The White House has proposed eliminating programs that were founded or named after two of the most important senators of the last 50 years -- Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) and former senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), both of whom previously reigned as chairman of the appropriations committee and became famous for their ability to steer federal dollars to their mostly rural states.
The Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program is now under the Obama budget knife, an elimination that, if enacted, would save the federal government $42 million. Byrd, who still serves in the line of presidential succession as president pro tempore, and his office did not respond to a request for comment about the proposed elimination.
The Byrd honors program is designed to provide about 7,000 scholarships annually to "exceptionally able high school seniors who show promise of continued excellence in postsecondary education," according to the Education Department.
But OMB declared that it's a wasteful program because the scholarships "are only available to a small number of elite students" who likely "would still enter an undergraduate course of study and graduate even without receiving the scholarship."
The White House also targeted the Denali Commission, a federal-state partnership in Alaska designed to streamline the flow of federal funds to the Last Frontier's vast infrastructure needs. The commission was slated to receive $10 million for its health-care facilities, but OMB found that these monies were "not subject to a competitive or merit-based process" and as such were "costs [that] should not be subsidized by the federal government."
Ultimately, however, Orszag won't be the final arbiter of these projects. The man with the biggest say may well be Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the current chairman of the appropriations committee.
And who were Inouye's two best friends in the Senate during his 47 years in the Senate? Byrd and Stevens.
Web Politics Editor
February 2, 2010; 5:38 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Capitol Briefing , Cast of Characters
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