Unless the Senate passes the Interior Appropriations bill by the end of the week, the National Endowment of the Arts will temporarily close its doors. The agency will not be alone. Because of Washington's current preoccupation with the White House scandal and the possibility of an impeachment inquiry into the actions of President Bill Clinton, only 4 of 13 budget appropriation bills have been passed over the last few weeks. One of those tabled bills is the Interior Appropriations bill, which contains funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.
Along with the NEA, the shutdown would effect dozens of other government agencies whose Fiscal Year 1999 budgets remain in limbo. The delay in the passage of the bills is attributed to squabbling between Democrats and Republicans over whether to open a Presidential impeachment inquiry. The House Judiciary Committee, which is dominated by Republicans, voted in favor of an inquiry on Oct. 5. The matter now goes before a House vote.
It is speculated that the White House would welcome a shutdown as a way to embarrass its congressional enemies into quickening the pace of the inquiry and getting on with the business of daily governing.
The NEA is currently operating on a continuing resolution, which was passed by the Senate on Sept. 16 and by which the NEA can continue to operate at last year's budget levels.
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. -- By Robert Simonson