House Takes up 2011 Funding Bill, Votes for Deeper Cuts in NEA

February 17, 2011
From: Thomas L. Birch, Legislative Counsel
Vol. 07:11

House Takes up 2011 Funding Bill, Votes for Deeper Cuts in NEA

The House of Representatives today finished voting on a series of amendments offered during the course of debate on H.R. 1, the continuing resolution to fund the federal government for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. The bill on the House floor, which already would reduce appropriations for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) from the current level of $167.5 million to $145 million, was amended to cut another $20.5 million from the arts agency’s funding.

The amendment to further reduce NEA funding, introduced by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), was one of three introduced in the House with an aim at cutting funds for the arts endowment. The unofficial recorded vote (still not posted by the House clerk) was close, passing by 217-209.

Two other amendments to eliminate the agency’s funding entirely—one introduced by Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) and the other by Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL)—were withdrawn from consideration.

In offering his amendment on the House floor, Rep. Walberg pointed out that the cut he proposed would take NEA funding back to the 2006 level. He observed that “Our country is in financial hardship, and we are not taking programs like the NEA off the table.”

Rep. Walberg went on to explain a relationship between the economy, philanthropy and federal funding that informed his position: “. . . at a time when our government is in a position where it must cut Federal spending, I believe one of the main sources of the funding for the arts needs to be through philanthropy, but that only happens best in a sound and a growing economy. This budget crisis, this economy, continues to be frustrated by the spending of government, which frustrates individuals, who, indeed, would be willing to support and, in fact, still do support the arts as well.”

Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), former chair of the appropriations subcommittee responsible for the NEA’s budget, spoke against the amendment and in support of federal arts funding. “The NEA’s contribution to deficit reduction is really infinitesimal,” he said, “but its elimination would not be. It would be very costly.” He advised his colleagues to recognize the achievements of programs like Signature Theatre in his congressional district, which “received NEA grants for its nationally recognized artistic and education programs.”

Moran was joined by Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), also formerly the chair of the appropriations subcommittee, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who made the point that “the arts not only contribute to education and enlightenment, they’re important job creators.”

Consideration of the 2011 continuing resolution shifts next to the Senate, which is expected to take up its version of the funding bill the week of February 28, following a week’s recess for both the House and Senate. With the two chambers certain to differ significantly on the money issues, it is unlikely that the complex task of reconciling the two bills into one can be accomplished by March 4, when the current continuing resolution expires. Congress probably will pass another short-term funding resolution to buy time for negotiating the final agreement, and then turn its attention to the 2012 budget proposed by President Obama on February 14.