The House rebuffed a conservative attempt Monday to slash the National Endowment for the Arts by another $10 million despite complaints that it supported a California theater whose gay-oriented performances included a reference to “sex with Newt Gingrich’s mother.”
By a 227-179 vote, lawmakers refused to further pare the arts agency’s budget, leaving intact a spending bill that would slice the endowment’s coffers by about 40 percent to $99.5 million next year. House leaders have pledged to try to terminate the endowment entirely by 1998. The Senate, which has yet to act, is expected to be more generous.
The fight came as the House began a week of battle over Republican spending priorities by debating a measure providing $12 billion next year for the Interior Department, cultural and other programs - $1.5 billion less than they received this year. The National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and energy conservation would be cut; the Bureau of Mines would be eliminated.
In what has become an almost annual attack on the arts agency and the National Endowment for the Humanities, conservatives criticized the use of taxpayers’ dollars to finance works they said are objectionable.
This time, their target was Highways Inc., a Santa Monica, Calif., performance center whose summer schedule includes music, dance and comedy by gay and lesbian performers. It received two endowment grants this year totaling $15,000.
According to the center’s brochure, comedienne Marga Gomez called her show “Not for Republicans” and promised the performer would “hold forth on her favorite subjects: pain, regret, self pity, doom and sex with Newt Gingrich’s mother.”
Labeling the performances “lurid junk,” Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., sponsored the amendment to slash the extra $10 million. “This is sexually explicit homosexual art material,” he said.
Gingrich, the House speaker, did not comment during the debate.
Endowment defenders said the agency would be damaged severely by the $63 million cut the bill already called for. They also said the endowment made thousands of worthy grants and supported art teachers throughout the country.
One defender, Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., made an unusually personal attack against Stearns.
“It is not your children, Mr. Stearns, who are going to be hurt,” Slaughter said. “It’s going to be the chldren in every nook and cranny in the United States who will not have any opportunity to develop who they are.”
Lawmakers also expected to debate amendments aimed at killing the arts and humanities endowments this year, though both were expected to lose.