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Trump budget divides Civil Rights commish, Dems mocked for 'exaggerated rhetoric'

Hearing of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The liberal majority on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights late Friday blasted President Trump's cuts to federal rights offices, prompting the group's minority to mock the "exaggerated rhetoric" of the Democrats.

In dueling statements, the two sides fought over the proposed Trump budget changes with the liberals claiming the president wants to crush civil rights and the minority noting that Trump is increasing civil rights protections in some areas.

"The commission, by majority vote, expresses concern with the administration's proposed budget cuts to and planned staff losses in numerous programs and civil rights offices across the federal government that enforce our nation's federal civil rights laws," said the majority statement for the eight member panel composed of presidential and congressional appointees.

"Along with changing programmatic priorities, these proposed cuts would result in a dangerous reduction of civil rights enforcement across the country, leaving communities of color, LGBT people, older people, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups exposed to greater risk of discrimination," added the majority.

The two who objected, Gail Heriot and Peter N. Kirsanow, said that the majority overplayed their complaints and they pointed out that some budgets actually increased and some cuts were done for efficiency, a main goal of the Office of Management and Budget in a bid to eliminate duplication in government.

"Six members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights voted to adopt a statement condemning President Trump's proposed budget cuts to various civil rights agencies. We dissented from that decision and from the exaggerated rhetoric contained in it," Heriot and Kirsanow said in a statement provided to Secrets.

Their key points:

  • Contrary to the impression one would get from reading the statement adopted by the majority, the Administration's proposal modestly increases funding for Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. What is really remarkable is not the Trump administration's proposal, but rather the fact that despite the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which significantly reduced the Civil Rights Division's workload, the Obama Administration repeatedly expanded its budget.
  • The statement adopted by the majority expresses concern with budget reductions for the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. But the proposed budget cut is only 1.57%. This is after OCR received an unusually large (7%) budget increase in Fiscal Year 2016.
  • The majority statement also accuses Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of having "repeated[ly] refus[ed] in Congressional testimony and other public statements to commit that the Department would enforce civil rights laws." This is over the top. Secretary DeVos never declined to commit to enforcing "civil rights laws." She interprets those laws differently from our colleagues.
  • It complains that the Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is slated to have substantial staff reductions in connection with the planned transfer to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But the whole point of the restructuring is to increase efficiency. The OFCCP and the EEOC deal with similar issues. While we do not necessarily endorse the transfer of functions, we note that avoiding waste in government spending is in everyone's interest.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com