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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

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Legislative Update

Finally, Congress Closes the Deal on 2011 Funding

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

The House of Representatives is set to vote on April 13 on the final spending agreement reached the week before by the president with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders in time to avoid a government shutdown. To allow time to lay out the details of the appropriations legislation to finish out the 2011 fiscal year, Congress has passed a seventh continuing resolution (CR) taking another $2 billion in spending, principally from transportation and housing programs. That measure runs until Friday, April 15.

The final spending legislationaan omnibus appropriations billaincludes $38.5 billion in cuts. With spending reductions totaling $12 billion already enacted in the last three short-term CRs, appropriators are charged with allocating cuts of $26.5 billion among thousands of program lines in the budget. (NOTE: At press time, the spending allocations had not been released. NASAA will distribute that information as soon as it is available.)

Among the spending cuts taken earlier were $40 million in the U.S. Department of Education's Arts in Education program, eliminated in the last CR. The program supports the Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination and Professional Development competitive grants as well as the VSA and Kennedy Center arts education programs. (VSA is the international organization on arts and disability.) The elimination of these funds in FY2011 jeopardizes funding for multiyear projects already in place by terminating funding for the 2011-2012 school year and beyond. NASAA and our advocacy colleagues are hopeful that some amount of that funding will be restored in the final bill to allow those grantees to continue their work this year.

Votes in the Senate in early March demonstrated how complicated the process had become. The Senate put to a vote two spending plans for fiscal 2011: the year-long CR, H.R. 1, passed by the House in February with $61 billion in cuts, and an alternative measure drafted by the Senate Democrats. Both bills failed to win the 60 votes needed to proceed, putting appropriators back at square one to devise a continuing resolution for the rest of the fiscal year.

Democrats in the Senate hung together in voting to oppose the Republican-backed H.R. 1, but 10 members of the Senate Democratic caucusafiscal conservatives and Senators looking at their reelection prospects with uncertain outcomes in the coming yearajumped to the Republican side in voting to oppose the Democratic alternative as insufficiently short on spending cuts. The House-passed bill, H.R. 1, includes a reduction in 2011 appropriations for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) by $43.1 million from the 2010 level of $167.5 million, to $124.4 million for the remainder of the fiscal year. The Senate's version would have continued funding in 2011 for the NEA at the 2010 level of $167.5 million. The final funding level for the NEA will be included in the bill slated to be enacted by April 15.

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