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Thursday, December 4, 2008

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Legislative Update

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

Congress Meets Briefly in a Lame Duck Session, with More Work for Congress in 2009

Apart from a brief lame duck session in the middle of November to address the extension of unemployment benefits, the 110th Congress has finished its business. The remainder of 2008 is taken up with the orientation of new members and party caucus meetings to dole out committee assignments and select newly open or contested leadership positions.

Democrats are adding party members to committees and subcommittees to reflect the enhanced majority numbers of Democrats joining the 111th Congress officially convening in January. Democrats increased their majority numbers by more than 20 new legislators as result of the November election, giving them a more than 55-seat advantage over the House Republicans.

Democrats had hoped to use the unemployment insurance extension bill to send U.S. automobile makers a $25-billion piece of the $700 billion already approved for the bailout of Wall Street. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had said it would not even be brought up in the House unless the president and Senate Republicans agreed on the funds for the auto industry.

Given the Republican opposition, congressional Democrats will have to wait until January to get down to more action around a larger, more extensive economic stimulus package, enjoying larger majorities to work with and a sympathetic president in the White House. Plans then include a legislative package with tax cuts for middle-income taxpayers; spending on Medicaid, infrastructure projects, food stamps, and unemployment insurance; and aid to automakers.

Meanwhile, president-elect Obama has let it be known that he intends to proceed at the outset on the economic stimulus, and then cautiously on a number of other issues. It's difficult to predict which of those on his arts policy agenda might come first, though the budget is the most likely, expected to be sent to Congress in late March or April. The fiscal year 2009 funding, which has been extended into March by a continuing resolution, will be replaced in January by passage of the full compliment of appropriations bills not passed this year.

The Obama administration's budget proposal for fiscal 2010 could be expected to address candidate Obama's interest in arts issues, including funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and for arts education, support for international cultural exchange through the State Department's budget, and tax fairness offering a full fair market value deduction to artists for the charitable donation of their works.

Keep abreast of current congressional news and federal legislative updates, and be sure to take advantage of NASAA's arts advocacy tools and services.