Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Can Anyone Clip Byrd Scholarships' Wings?

Once again, a president is trying to get rid of a “small” scholarship program tucked away in the Department of Education. And once again, the attempt is likely to be futile.

 In another indication of how broken the budget process is, Republicans and Democrats alike have tried to eliminate this $42 million program, first established in the mid-1980s--only to see it funded year after year. The problem seems to be the program’s name: “The Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program.”

So far, it’s been impossible to eliminate the program, named after the longtime chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. House Republicans tried; so did President George W. Bush and now Obama is trying to dump the program for a second year. The Robert Byrd program sends money to states to fund $1,500 merit-based scholarships for students. The administration argues that the grants are available to only a small "elite" group of students, who would likely be able to go to college even if they did not receive the scholarships.

Not only have lawmakers and presidents failed to slash the program, but in 2009, Congress went so far as to create another scholarship named after Byrd’s late wife, Erma. The Erma Byrd Scholarship Program provides scholarships to student “pursuing a course of study that will lead to a career in industrial health and safety occupations, including mine safety.” It received $1.5 million in Fiscal Year 2010.

Congress must get serious about cutting the deficit and gaining control of the soaring federal debt. Every program and parochial interest must be on the table. And that means that policymakers will have to resist the temptation to respond every time someone like Byrd cries foul when a pet project is targeted.