NASAA Notes: August 2017

August 8, 2017

NEA Budget Approved in Committee, Awaits Further Action

This week marks the beginning of August recess, traditionally a slow period in Washington, when Congress is out of session and members of Congress and staff return to their home districts. In a year of many unusual twists and turns, however, next month will be a little different than the norm. Although Congress has adjourned until after Labor Day, the appropriations process is so far behind schedule (the Senate Appropriations Committee has not even released its draft bill) that, when they return, members from both parties will have to work at a feverish pace to conclude the process before the end of the fiscal year (September 30).

What this means is that we are at a critical point in the appropriations process. After President Trump called for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in his budget request to Congress in the spring, last month the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee (which has jurisdiction over the NEA’s budget), considered and passed the agency’s budget for fiscal year 2018. That legislation funds the agency at $145 million, a decrease of $5 million from its current level. Any reduction in funding to the NEA is significant and cannot be overlooked, but neither should the leadership House Republicans took in passing a bill with only a modest cut in funding. Historically, when the same party controls both the White House and Congress, the legislative branch has taken the President’s lead in shaping the budget, particularly in the first year of a new administration (when the President’s popularity is highest).

The House Committee’s approval of a budget for the NEA at $145 million last month is important because it not only sends a strong signal that Congress supports the agency’s existence, but it also creates an opportunity for the Senate to increase funding. As you know, NASAA and other arts organizations joined forces this spring in asking Congress to fund the agency at $155 million. While that figure may not be attainable given the current pressures facing Congress, it is our hope that it will give Senate Republicans the space to increase funding for the agency above the House’s $145 million figure.

Further complicating matters is that current funding for the federal government expires on September 30. As a result, negotiations between the President, the House and the Senate will likely come down to the wire, and it is certainly possible that Congress could pass a continuing resolution funding the federal agency at current levels for part or all of FY2018.

Regardless of which legislative scenario unfolds, continued advocacy will be needed if the NEA is to survive its most serious threat since the mid-1990s. We’ve made tremendous progress so far, thanks to the committed, bipartisan efforts made by advocates across the country to empower our congressional champions in the House and Senate who stood up for the NEA and must continue to do so moving forward. NASAA is monitoring this situation closely, and will be in touch with talking points when the timing is right for further outreach to key members in the Senate. In the meantime, I want to sincerely thank all of you for your constant attention over the past eight months. I have no doubt it has made all the difference. Let’s keep up the great work to ensure the arts continue to benefit Americans across the nation.

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