Federal arts and humanities programs targeted for elimination by the Trump administration would get a lifeline from House appropriators willing to ignore the president’s proposal and keep them running.
The $31.5 billion fiscal 2018 Interior-Environment spending bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday includes $145 million for the National Endowment for the Arts.
While that’s still a 3.2 percent cut from the fiscal year 2017 enacted level, it is more than $116 million above Trump’s budget request. The National Endowment for the Humanities would receive $145 million in fiscal 2018, which is $103.7 million above the White House budget request.
The NEA and NEH, which both receive only a tiny fraction of federal spending, faced the specter of erasure when President Donald Trump in his fiscal 2018 budget outline proposed starting to wind down the programs next year. In justifying its proposal, the White House said the agencies could continue to receive funding from private donors, and argued that it does not consider the activities of those programs “to be core federal responsibilities.”
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has backed Trump’s plan to gut the programs, has described them as “welfare for cultural elitists.”
Federal funding for entities like the NEA and NEH is neither “necessary nor prudent,” Romina Boccia, whose research at Heritage focuses on government spending and the national debt, told CQ Roll Call in an email.
“Private sector charitable contributions to arts, culture, and humanities totaled more than $17 billion in 2015, making federal contributions to this vital sector of civil society less than a rounding error,” she said.
Trump’s proposal threw arts and culture organizations across the country into a panic about the future of the crucial funding sources, but their fate lies in the hands of Congress, which has the final say in whether the government continues to spend on them.
Even as the Interior-Environment bill spares the NEH and NEA, it would cut a combined $10 million from both programs, reductions that Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, found “egregious.”
“While I’m pleased that House Republicans didn’t follow President Trump’s lead in eliminating these critical cultural institutions, I am disappointed that they decided to cut them by $10 million,” she told CQ Roll Call through an aide. “The NEA and the NEH provide support in communities large and small, stimulating regional economies, promoting innovation and creativity, assisting students, and serving our veterans .”
Both programs were created in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, under pressure for the federal government to start backing the arts and humanities the same way it did science programs. Where other countries have culture ministries to support the arts, federal support for arts and humanities programs across the United States mainly comes through the NEH and NEA.
NEH provides grants to institutions such as museums, libraries, colleges, public broadcasting, and individual scholars to promote the humanities. According to the agency, its grants strengthen teaching and learning in schools and colleges, facilitate research and provide access to cultural and educational resources.
Similarly, the NEA says it writes grants to “thousands of nonprofits each year, along with partnerships and special arts initiatives, research and other support that contribute to the vitality of our neighborhoods, students and schools, workplace and culture” and supports “activities such as performances, exhibitions, healing arts and arts education programs, festivals, and artist residencies.”
Lawmakers from both parties promise to continue to resist proposals to eliminate the programs. Backers argue that although they receive little federal funding, their impacts are far reaching and promote philanthropic giving from private donors.
Congressional Arts Caucus C0-Chairman Leonard Lance told CQ Roll Call that there is “a tremendous multiplier effect,” from the programs that directly helps with job creation and increased tax revenues.
“I believe that this is in the best interest of the nation,” the New Jersey Republican said.
The House Appropriations Committee report on the funding bill noted the NEH’s support of grant programs to benefit wounded warriors and to provide educational opportunities for veterans and service members transitioning to civilian life, and commended the NEA’s participation in military arts programs and longstanding collaboration with states.
“I believe the promotion of the arts is vital to the success and prosperity of our country and I’m pleased to see this funding preserved,” Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei said in a Tuesday emailed newsletter from his office hours before the Interior-Environment bill was marked up in full committee.
While the agencies cannot advocate for their own federal funding and would not comment on the current appropriations process, Victoria Hutter, a spokeswoman for the NEA told CQ Roll Call that the agency will continue to accept grant applications for fiscal year 2018 “at our usual deadlines and will continue to operate as usual until a new budget is enacted by Congress.”