Hampered by the ongoing White House crisis and thoughts of the upcoming elections, the Senate has put off passing the Interior Appropriations bill, which contains funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. The bill, which reached the Senate floor earlier this month, was abandoned last week after being weighed down by too many amendments, said a spokesperson at the NEA. It will likely not be taken up again until the beginning of Fiscal Year 1999, on Oct. 1.
The House of Representatives set funding for the NEA at $98 million last July. Meanwhile, the Senate, traditionally more supportive of the NEA, allotted the agency $100 million.
As usual, the NEA bill did not pass through the Senate without a bit of political fuss. On Sept. 16, Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-MO) cited the controversial Terrance McNally play Corpus Christi -- due to begin performances at Off-Broadway's Manhattan Theatre Club Sept. 22 -- as a reason not to fund the arts agency. Ashcroft introduced an amendment defunding the NEA, which was soundly defeated, 76-22.
Corpus Christi, which reportedly concerns a gay Jesus figure and his apostles, has raised the hackles and inspired the protests of various right wing groups. The play is not directly funded by the NEA, though MTC itself has received agency monies.
Despite the defeat of the Ashcroft measure, several other proposed amendments, along with the constant distractions of the Starr Report and an election year, caused the Interior bill to be tabled. The Senate passed a continuing resolution on Sept. 16 by which the NEA can continue to operate at last year's budget levels. The resolution takes the agency through Oct. 9. -- By Robert Simonson