Less than a year after Congress voted (Sept. 30, 1996) to approve a $99.5 million budget for the National Endowment For The Arts for fiscal 1997, attempts are underway to cut the budget down to $10 million, which would essentially turn the arts funding program into a non-entity.
According to the NY Times, Republican leaders on the House Appropriations Committee figure the $10 million would simply be used to shut the agency down. The fight is expected to resume with Congressional maneuvers July 9.
President Bill Clinton had asked for an N.E.A. budget of $136 million -- up from this year's budget by $37 million. Democratic congressman Sidney R. Yates (Illinois) told the Times he expects the Endowment to again receive $99 million. Countering the anti-N.E.A. belief that the vast majority of funds go to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, Yates pointed to smaller organizations that help local communities. Yates told the Times, "Large arts institutions have lost one-third of their grants; everybody has to live with a third less, unfortunately." Yates could push for bigger arts budgets when Congress held a majority of Democrats (even under Reagan/Bush). He's still ranking Democrat on the subcommittee.
On the other side, Oklahoma Republican Steve Largent calls for the N.E.A.'s abolition, telling the times "It is wrong for the Government to be the gatekeeper for determining what is and what is not art. We're asking some people to do without while the government subsidizes the Metropolitan Opera."
John Doty, legislative assistant for Rep. Jerrold Nadler (the Congressman whose legislative district includes the Broadway theatre district), told Playbill On-Line that Nadler has been pushing the N.E.A. Appropriations issue since January. Alluding to an op-ed piece in the New York Times (July 8) by Alec Baldwin and Robert Lynch, Doty explained that each year for several years, the N.E.A. has been funded without official authorization. In other words, the Education and Workforce Committee of the House is supposed to approve a bill before it goes before the House and Senate. If they don't, a special waiver must be given to circumvent the lengthy process. Each year, this has been done for the N.E.A. bill. "But this year, the Rules Committee might not waive the rule," said Doty. On July 9, the Rules Committee will begin deliberation. "At that point," said Doty, "Sidney Yates will likely offer an amendment to increase funding from the $10 million there right now to the previous $99.5 million -- which is still less than what the President recommended. The problem is, Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House, and Senate Majority Leader Dick Armey are very powerful. Armey has said, `As long as I am Majority Leader, I will not allow consideration of the authorization bill of the N.E.A.'"
"Fortunately," continued Doty, "there are moderate Republicans who'll vote for the Endowment. Congressman Nadler will testify tomorrow (July 9) at 4 PM in front of the Rules Committee to waive the point of order. He'll again speak on the floor of the House this week to point out the benefits of the N.E.A."
Doty gives the time frame thusly: The House this week and next; the Senate by the end of July; August nothing happens; September will bring an omnibus appropriations bill to the President. "If there's no funding for the N.E.A. in it, he'll likely veto it. But, of course, to keep the N.E.A. funding in the budget, they sneak in other cuts elsewhere."
Karyn Margolis, spokesperson for Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (of the 14th congressional district -- the East Side of NYC, as well as small parts of Brooklyn and Queens), told Playbill On-Line Maloney would fight very hard against the N.E.A. cuts.
Maloney, Congressman Jerrold Nadler and Senator Alfonse D'Amato appeared on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, July 1, to denounce the drastic cuts. "It's a cultural embarrassment that the wealthiest nation in the world would even consider completely defunding the arts," Maloney said in a statement faxed to Playbill On-Line. "The conservatives have targeted the N.E.A. For years because they say the organization is elitist, controversial and frivolous. But they overlook the many ways in which the N.E.A. Benefits our communities. I have a perfect example in my district - the Theatre For The New City, which uses its N.E.A. Grants to enrich the lives of our children" (with an after-school program for troubled youth). Maloney is in her third term as Congresswoman.
Yates told the Times, "I believe sincerely that the National Endowment For The Arts provides a necessary service in the social fabric of the country. It sustains the basic arts -- music, dance, theatre, individual efforts -- and if the antagonists win, I think there will be a big gap that won't be filled by private donations."
-- By David Lefkowitz