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Tuesday, August 4, 2011

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Legislative Update

House Defeats Attempts to Cut Arts Funding

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

Before the debt ceiling debate claimed center stage on Capitol Hill at the end of July, the House of Representatives had voted down one amendment aimed at eliminating all funds for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and a second intent on cutting the arts appropriations back by $10 million (the Walberg amendment). Both votes scored a strong victory in the House for arts advocates. Although the House still has not finished final voting on the Interior Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2012 with the NEA budget set at $135 million, the arts funding provisions are set in the legislation, ready to move on to the Senate once the House reconvenes after Labor Day and completes its business on the Interior measure.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), chair of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, had pledged to oppose attempts on the House floor to cut the NEA budget. He was true to his word. His Democratic colleague on the subcommittee, Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), was eloquent on the floor in defense of federal arts funding. The cochairs of the Congressional Arts Caucus played major roles during the floor debate. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) organized floor speeches with her colleagues to speak against the Walberg amendment. Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA) whipped votes against the amendment from among his Republican colleagues.

The first vote on the NEA's budget came on July 25 when freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), a former member of the Kansas state senate and a member of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress, offered an amendment from the floor to eliminate funding for the NEA and several other agencies. The proposal was defeated by a vote of 126-284, with all Democrats joined by 105 Republicans voting against the amendment.

Two days later, the House defeated by a vote of 181-240 an amendment to take $10 million from the $135 million in the bill for the NEA, which would have set arts funding back to the 2006 level. That amendment, offered by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), a freshman in Congress and a member of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), was similar to one he sponsored last February to bring 2011 NEA funds down to $125 million. The February amendment passed by a vote of 217-209. This time around, the voting patterns noticeably shifted. In February, 22 Republicans joined all but three Democrats in voting against the arts funding cut. This week, all Democrats and 55 Republicans voted together to defeat the move to reduce the NEA funds. Conservative Republicans teamed up with moderates from their own party to carry the vote. Almost half the Republicans voting in support of the NEA's budget and against the Walberg amendment are, like Walberg, freshmen in Congress and RSC members.

Clearly, forces combined to win that outcome. The advocacy of NASAA's members was strong and engaged. Personal contacts carried the day. Our colleagues in other arts organizations were equally involved through their grass-roots networks. Our bipartisan champions in Congress stood visibly against the proposed funding cut.

The House still must finish debate and vote final passage on the Interior Appropriations Bill in September. Nonetheless, the provisions in the bill before the House adopt the positions taken by NASAA and our members on issues posed by the administration's FY2012 budget proposal for the NEA. The legislation requires that 40% of all NEA program funds be allocated to the states, as first mandated by Congress in 1997. The administration's budget had exempted funding for the Our Town initiative from the program grants; the House bill includes funds for Our Town in the program budget line. In proposing to develop guidelines and rules regarding appropriate matching funds and eligibility for waiver of match, the NEA must first, as required in the bill, consult with the states. Finally, the bill in the House directs that funds to states for arts education not be reduced by a greater percentage than funding decreases applied to other NEA programs, and directs the NEA to maintain the current programs of Jazz Masters and Heritage Fellowships.

NASAA's members were highly engaged in this successful advocacy effort. We will continue to engage our NASAA colleagues in our advocacy with the Senate, particularly with those legislators who are the influential and key decision makers on the bill. Thank you to all for your dedicated advocacy.

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