Thomas L. Birch
December 5, 2006
Mid-Term Elections: Impact on Congressional Arts Support: The November 7 election results produced significant changes in Congress as the House and Senate shift to majorities for the Democrats who gained five seats in the Senate and some 29 in the House. The impact of these changes on the politics of arts legislation remains to be seen. Much will depend upon contacts constituents make with their newly elected Representatives and Senators to impress upon them the important role played by federal arts funding back home.
From the newly elected House members who will serve in the 110th Congress come nearly two dozen with experience as sitting or former state legislators. Some of the new faces with legislative backgrounds, like Sen.-elect Jon Tester (D-MT) and Rep.-elect Paul Hodes (D-NH), are known as arts supporters in their states. While the Congressional Progressive Caucus expects to gain at least seven newly elected House Democrats–among them, Jerry McNerney (CA), Ed Perlmutter (CO), Bruce Braley (IA), John Sarbanes (MD), Keith Ellison (MN), Carol Shear-Porter (NH), Paul Hodes (NH), and John Hall (NY)–the possibility of drawing arts supporters from all of the new class of legislators remains to be seen.
In the 29 or so House races where Democrats defeated incumbent Republicans or won open GOP seats, almost two-thirds of the Republicans who will not be returning are moderates, like Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT) and Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA), whose support for the arts was reliable. Among those Republican moderates, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT), who co-chairs the Congressional Arts Caucus, won a hotly contested race and returns as the only Republican House member from the six New England states. At the same time, some of the most resolute foes of NEA funding, like Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-CO) and Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK), along with some half a dozen others with similar records either retired from Congress or were defeated.
The makeup of the new leadership in Congress, especially in the House, will be key to setting the agenda and creating an atmosphere of political support for the arts. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the next Speaker of the House, and others on the Democratic leadership team rate highly as arts supporters. In the Senate, with Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) as Majority Leader, the arts should expect a reliable champion. The new Majority Whip, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), also stands as an arts supporter.
The immediate notable difference for arts issues between the current Congress and the new Congress convening in January will be the new committee chairs and the composition of the committees responsible for policy and funding for the arts. Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), who for several years have held the chairs of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittees responsible for funding the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), were both defeated in their re-election bids. The ranking Democrat expected to replace Taylor, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), has consistently pushed for increased arts funding. Taylor, who supported recent increases in NEA appropriations, always left it to others to initiate the action through floor amendments. Similarly, Burns has not pushed for growth in the NEA budget, nor has Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), who might be expected to replace Burns in the Senate subcommittee chair. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), always a strong arts supporter, won re-election and will take over the chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee responsible for authorizing the NEA. The Ways and Means Committee handling tax legislation in the House will be chaired by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), who has a strong record of support on arts issues.
In other new committee assignments announced by the Senate Democrats, Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Ben Nelson (D-NE) will join the Appropriations Committee; Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Ken Salazar (D-CO) will go on the Finance Committee (responsible for tax measures and charitable issues); and Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) have been appointed to the HELP Committee. New committee appointments in the House have not yet been settled.
On November 13, Congress convened for the lame duck session, with appropriations at the top of the agenda. The House this year has passed all but one appropriations bill, the most difficult of the lot–funding for the Departments of Labor, HHS and Education. The Senate has finished just two funding bills–Defense and Homeland Security. Rather than tackle the hard work of completing the outstanding money measures to carry federal spending through the fiscal year which began on October 1, lawmakers decided to postpone completing the unfinished appropriations bills and passed a second continuing resolution to carry spending at 2006 levels through December 8. This marks the tenth consecutive year that legislators have not completed their appropriations work before the October 1 start of the fiscal year.
Congress is scheduled to reconvene on December 4. With such little time left to fully resolve each appropriations measure still pending final action, Congress appears to have settled on pushing back consideration of the remaining FY 07 spending bills until the 110th Congress convenes in January. That will leave the final appropriations decisions in the hands of the new Democratic majority.
Senators Stand in Support of NEA Fund Increase: During the congressional recess, NASAA and other arts advocates worked to enlist Senators to join with Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) in signing a letter to the Senate appropriations leaders urging them to “support increases in the range of $5 to $10 million each” for NEA and NEH in the final negotiations on appropriations legislation. The House passed the NEA funding measure in May, approving by voice vote a floor amendment to add $5 million each to the appropriations for the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Interior funding measure leaving NEA funding at the current level of $124 million as proposed in the President’s budget.
The advocacy effort to build support in the Senate for an increase in the arts and the humanities spending yielded a total of 42 Senators signing the letter with the hope of persuading the House and Senate conference committee members on the final appropriations bill to agree to adopt at least the additional spending of $5 million each for the two endowments as already approved by the House.
The signatories to the Senate letter are: Sens. Coleman (R-MN), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Max Baucus (D-MT), Joseph Biden (D-DE), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Russell Feingold (D-WI), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), James Jeffords (I-VT), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), John Kerry (D-MA), Herbert Kohl (D-WI), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Mel Martinez (R-FL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Barack Obama (D-IL), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
The list of Senators backing increased arts spending is impressive; the bipartisan showing of support is important. Many thanks to all of you for your efforts in contacting your Senators to urge their participation in this expression of the importance of improving the level of federal funding for the arts.
Congressional Arts Report Card: Each year, Americans for the Arts compiles and publishes the congressional arts voting records, indicating the level of support for the arts in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. The 2006 Congressional Arts Report Card is now available from the Americans for the Arts Action Fund PAC. It rates, and grades, members of the House on criteria including floor votes to increase and decrease arts endowment funding, membership in the Congressional Arts Caucus, and participation in signing collective letters in support of funding for the NEA and for the Department of Education’s arts education grant programs. Because the Senate took no floor votes on funding for the arts endowment or for arts education in the past two years covered by the report card, there are no rankings listed for U.S. Senators.
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