Congressman Obey slams Arne Duncan for lack of fiscal restraint

Mike Riggs Contributor
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Congressman David Obey hasn’t made a secret of his contempt for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. But on Friday, the Fiscal Times published an interview transcript in which the retiring House Appropriations Committee chairman unloaded both barrels on the former head of Chicago’s public school system.

“So as far as I’m concerned, the secretary of Education should have been happy as hell” with the money he received from the House Appropriations Committee, Obey said. “He should have taken that deal and smiled like a Cheshire cat. He’s got more walking around money than every other cabinet secretary put together.”

But recently, the House told Duncan it was cutting some funding for Race to the Top, an Obama-created program with the goal of sparking education reform in the states. Duncan allegedly attacked Obey for reducing funding for the program and suggested that the Appropriations Committee cut food stamps instead.

In his interview, Obey, a Democrat who represents Wisconsin’s 7th District, suggested that Duncan’s expectations were not just unrealistic, but unreasonable in light of the nation’s economic woes. “We were giving them over $10 billion in money to help keep teachers on the job, plus another $5 billion for Pell, so he was getting $15 billion for the programs he says he cares about, and it was costing him $500 million [in reductions to the Race to the Top program]. Now that’s a pretty damn good deal.”

Obey also said that it “blows his mind” that the White House has taken Duncan’s side in calling for Race to the Top funding to be restored. “I would have expected the president to say to the secretary, ‘look, you’re getting a good deal, for God’s sake, what this really does is guarantee that the rest of the money isn’t going to be touched,’” Obey told the Fiscal Times.

“We gave [Duncan] $4.3 billion in the stimulus package, no questions asked. He could spend it any way he wants. … I trusted the secretary, so I gave him a hell of a lot more money than I should have,” Obey said, while slamming Duncan for calling for a cut to food stamps.

“Their line of argument was, well, the cost of food relative to what we thought it would be has come down, so people on food stamps are getting a pretty good deal in comparison to what we thought they were going to get. Well isn’t that nice. Some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change.”

Obey also fired a final salvo at the National Education Association, the nation’s largest public education union.

“I have been the lead pony on education funding for 15 years around here, and if NEA isn’t smart enough to figure out where the hell I’m coming from on education after that time, they don’t deserve to be in the business,” Obey said.

“I don’t need any lectures from the secretary of Education or the president of the United States in terms of my willingness to take on teachers’ organizations,” he added.

Obey announced in May that he will not seek reelection in 2010.