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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

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Legislative Update

NASAA's Bipartisan Advocacy Scores on Capitol Hill

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

NASAA's bipartisan approach to advocacy delivered a strong position for state arts agencies in the final 2012 budget plan Congress approved for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Throughout the year, NASAA relied on its Republican and Democratic contacts in Congress and in the states to ensure funding support for the arts in the last congressional session.

All of this took place against a backdrop of fierce political discord on Capitol Hill. The arts managed to stay free of much of the partisan squabbling while legislators in the appropriations committees worked across party lines to produce the best outcome. Their efforts prevailed despite an atmosphere thick with demands for cuts in government spending.

When the House Republican Study Committee, the most fiscally conservative caucus in the House, laid out a plan in January 2011 for $2.5 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade, including elimination of funds to the NEA, the Republican House Appropriations Committee chair, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), and his colleague Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), chair of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the NEA, continued to provide for the arts in their draft funding bill. During debate on the House floor, Rogers and Simpson were joined by their Democratic counterparts on the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) and Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), in voicing strong support for the bill's arts funding.

The president's fiscal year 2012 budget request sent to Congress last February not only proposed a cut in the NEA's budget, it also presented a number of policy objectives that caused concern among state arts agencies. Legislators from both sides of the aisle heard NASAA's voice on Capitol Hill, and NASAA's members worked their political connections to contact key legislators with our message. When the time came for House and Senate appropriators to draft the spending bills, Republican and Democratic members alike responded in support of the positions advanced by NASAA.

When the spending legislation went to the House floor, Republicans and Democrats teamed up to vote against amendments to cut the NEA's budget. Again, NASAA members were able to reach key legislators identified by NASAA as essential allies in a successful vote. Our message was clear and consistent. It was not a Republican message or a Democratic one. It was a message resonating across party lines:

When it came time in the Senate for appropriators to draft their version of the arts funding measure, the leadership of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), teamed up to craft a bipartisan agreement on NEA spending and the allocation of funding to state arts agencies. Here too, NASAA worked across party lines in meetings on the Hill and through contacts from home to send the message to senators that state arts agencies serve constituents through the efficient use of federal dollars.

In a year marked by partisan clashes and legislative stalemates, the appropriations process moved along, behind closed doors where the work often gets done. Working together, with advice from NASAA and from their constituents, Republican and Democratic members of Congress delivered a budget bill that responds to the interests of state arts agencies. My thanks and appreciation to all of you for your committed advocacy throughout the year.

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