February 8, 2017
Facts: Arts and the White House
Washington is abuzz with activity. After years of gridlock brought on by policy disagreements between the Obama administration and the Republican leadership that controlled both chambers of Congress, that party is now in control of both the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. Historically, one-party control leads to busy and productive governing periods in Washington. The last time one party controlled both branches, 2009-2011, was one of the most historic windows of legislative lawmaking in American history. In that window, President Obama, working with a Democrat-controlled Congress, was able to pass into law several sweeping pieces of legislation, including health reform (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), financial reform (the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act), and the stimulus bill (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act).
It is with this historical context, and the fact that President Trump was elected on a sweeping platform, that Washington has been girding itself for another significant period. The President campaigned on promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act, reform the tax code, renegotiate international trade pacts, and implement significant new policies and laws related to immigration. All of these initiatives require at least some congressional action, so members of Congress are working at a furious pace to try to begin the process and devise these significant and complicated pieces of legislation.
There is, however, an important variable that has delayed this work, and that is direction from the new administration. President Trump and his team ran a different type of campaign, often bucking traditional norms, on the way to the White House. Since his inauguration on January 20, President Trump and his team have signaled that they expect that style to continue. As a result, policymakers and advocates are left with very little information about the new President’s views on several issues of governance. Never has this been more true than in setting funding levels for federal agencies. As you may recall, rather than passing legislation last December that would fund the federal government until the end of the fiscal year (September 30), Congress, at then President-elect Trump’s request, opted for a shorter-term bill that funds government agencies only until April 28. As a result, any negotiations on funding bills for both the remainder of fiscal year 2017 and FY2018 should be accelerating. They aren’t, because the Trump administration has not indicated to Congress its plans, at the highest levels, for funding specific federal agencies.
I emphasize this point to illustrate the need to view the report that emerged from The Hill in January within the broader reality in which we live today. That story identified two people working on the Trump transition team who were urging soon-to-be members of the President’s staff at the Office of Management and Budget (a very powerful office within the executive branch that oversees federal spending and regulatory policy) to incorporate provisions of the Heritage Foundation’s Blueprint for Reform: A Comprehensive Policy Agenda for a New Administration in 2017. That report calls for a drastic downsizing of the federal government and elimination of a wide range of federal agencies and offices, including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
This report was met by arts advocates with justifiably significant concern. The fact that there were members of the then President-elect’s transition team with those views is deeply troubling and warrants significant discussion among all of us about how we, as a community, want to respond to this potential threat to the NEA. As we look forward, I want to raise a few important points:
- There is no indication at this time that that report, including the specific recommendation to eliminate the NEA, has any support from the Trump administration. Recently, two senior political aides to the President were assigned to the National Endowment for the Arts as the first step in transitioning the agency. Both have stated in meetings that they requested the assignment and support the agency’s underlying mission.
- While there is a huge unknown with regard to the Trump administration’s vision for reshaping the federal government, there is an equally significant known variable, in that the current Republican leadership in Congress has been in place for seven years. Through the handiwork of arts advocates we’ve created strong, bipartisan relationships with members of Congress who understand the value of the NEA. It is these strong relationships that allowed for proposed increases in NEA funding by both chambers of Congress last year ($2 million in the House and $500,000 in the Senate).
- Should the President propose a significant reduction or outright elimination of the NEA’s funding, NASAA and our colleagues at other arts service organizations are organized and prepared to mobilize. Fortunately, such a step is not possible without the support of Congress.
While it is difficult for all of us to wait to hear from the administration about its intentions, there are proactive things we can all do right now to support the NEA and its federal funding. I urge you to consult the guidance in NASAA’s The Practical Advocate series:
- Three Simple Ways to Advocate for the Arts
- Fact vs. Fiction: Government Arts Funding
- You Can Shape Policy
- Five Essential Arts Arguments
- Being an Arts Ambassador (especially for council members)
Establishing relationships now, before work on the President’s budget begins, is always important, but this year it is absolutely critical. Because Congress is already behind in devising an appropriations bill for fiscal years 2017 and 2018, staff will have to work on an accelerated time line to finish their work once they get the President’s budget request. As a result, it may be very difficult for staff to make meetings with the wide-ranging constituent groups that will be seeking out the opportunity to make their case for funding. Therefore, building a rapport now will yield tremendous benefits once the appropriations process begins.
As is always the case, I am grateful to each of you for being so diligent in making the case for why federal support for the NEA and state arts agencies is so important. NASAA will continue to keep you updated as events unfold, and please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions.
In this Issue
State to State
- Massachusetts: Celebrating Centennial of JFK's Birth
- Louisiana: Music-Infused Creative Placemaking Pilot
- Arizona: Next50 Initiative
More Notes from NASAA
From the CEO
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