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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

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Legislative Update

Congress Steps Up to 2012 Funding Debate; House Budget Takes Aim at NEA, NEH, CPB

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

In the same week that Congress completed the long debate over 2011 spending and voted final passage of a continuing resolution to complete the current fiscal year's appropriations, the House of Representatives took up its version of the 2012 budget resolution, passing the measure on April 15 on a party-line vote with all Democrats (and four Republicans) voting no. The spending blueprint that lays out budget policy—"options worthy of consideration," according to the resolution's report—to guide decisions appropriators will make for the coming fiscal year was crafted by House Budget Committee Chair Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Many of the spending assumptions set forth in this House-passed budget resolution for FY2012, H.Con.Res. 34, assume the same level of budget cuts embodied in H.R. 1, the version of the 2011 continuing resolution passed by the House in February. H.R. 1 proposed almost twice the amount of spending reductions as those agreed upon by House and Senate Democratic and Republican leadership in the final version of the 2011 spending bill.

The 2012 budget resolution passed by the House makes specific recommendations about the future of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CBP): eliminate the funding. The report from the House Budget Committee claims that the "subsidies" for these cultural agencies "can no longer be justified. The activities and content funded by these agencies go beyond the core mission of the Federal Government and they are generally enjoyed by people of higher education and income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens. These agencies can raise funds from private-sector patrons—which will also free them from any risk of political interference."

Much the same attitude is extended to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, whose funding of grants to museums and libraries is not, according to the Budget Committee report, "a core Federal responsibility" and could be funded just as well at the state and local level and augmented significantly by charitable contributions from the private sector.

In important ways, the prolonged debate over the 2011 appropriations resolution set the tone and identified directions we might expect to see played out again in the 2012 deliberations. For one thing, moderate leadership in the House, particularly in positions on the Appropriations Committee, did much to determine the final outcome on funding for the NEA at $155 million for the current year. That was indeed the level first proposed by the appropriations leadership in the first draft of H.R. 1. It was met with such fierce vocal opposition from budget hawks and freshman Republicans bent on diminishing the size of the federal budget that the bill was sent back to the committee and re-emerged with funds for the arts endowment proposed at $144 million. That then took a cut of $20 million more on the House floor, but when the House and Senate negotiated a final deal, the moderates prevailed with their original proposed appropriations level of $155 million.

President Obama has proposed funding the NEA at $146.255 million in his FY2012 budget. The appropriation for the NEA reached $167.5 million in 2010. For 2011, the Obama administration had proposed a cut in the arts agency's funds to $161.3 million. It is significant to recognize that the strength of political advocacy for the NEA budget lies on Capitol Hill with senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle.

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