July 12, 1997 in Nation/World

Endowment For Arts Survives For Now But It’s Up To Senate To Restore Funding After House Cuts Controversial Agency

From Wire Reports

Supporters of the National Endowment for the Arts defeated a House effort Friday to eliminate the beleaguered agency and put the states in charge of distributing federal subsidies for the arts.

But the endowment’s future remained in doubt. Opponents used a parliamentary step to remove $10 million for the NEA from an Interior Department spending bill being debated in the House.

That action means the House version of the measure carries no money for the NEA next year. It could make it more difficult for NEA supporters to get the money restored when House and Senate negotiators try to resolve differences between their Interior Department bills.

“It does complicate things,” said NEA Chairman Jane Alexander, who added that the move was unwise and not supported by the American public.

Agency supporters will now look to the Senate for help.

“They have consistently supported the agency and I don’t think that’s going to change,” Alexander said of Senators.

Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington, who is the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that sets spending for the agency, is already on the record as saying he supports continuing the current $99.5 million federal subsidy for next year.

There’s also President Clinton. Aides plans to urge him to veto the entire $13 billion spending bill if it cuts money for the arts agency too deeply.

A day after NEA defenders failed to win a separate vote on its funding, conservative Republicans appeared to inch closer toward their long-cherished goal of ridding the federal government of the arts agency.

First was the motion eliminating the $10 million set aside for the agency next year, about enough to help the NEA close its doors.

The agency got $99.5 million this year and its supporters were denied a separate vote on whether it should be funded at the same level next year.

But then Republican and Democratic backers of the NEA rejected, 271-155, the proposal for block grants by Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich.

Moments earlier, Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., an NEA critic, had urged a favorable vote, saying the approach was an “important step in the right direction.”

The amendment, which had the support of other House GOP leaders, would have killed the NEA and sent most of its funding, about $80 million, to the states in the form of blocks grants for schools and state arts councils.

“We’re not going to give the money to aging hippies anymore to desecrate the crucifix or do other strange things,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.

The NEA has long been a target of conservatives, who criticized past grants for arts projects they viewed as sacrilegious, obscene and profane.

But the agency’s supporters criticized the proposal, calling it an unworkable sham designed to do nothing more than kill the NEA.

“Let’s not pretend that a vote for the Ehlers amendment represents a commitment to arts in this country,” said Rep. James Moran, D-Va.

Meanwhile, the House debated a separate amendment that would eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities. A formal vote was delayed until Tuesday.

Logging roads subsidy survives

The larger funding bill that includes the NEA budget also contains other controversial items.

On a close vote on one of those issues, the House approved a continuation of a federal subsidy to build logging roads in federal forests, rejecting a claim by environmentalists and fiscal conservatives that the government should not cover the costs of roads used primarily by timber companies.

xxxx HOW THEY VOTED Here’s how Northwest representatives voted on a House proposal to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts. Idaho: Chenoweth and Crapo voted yes. Washington: Dunn, Hastings, Metcalf and Nethercutt voted yes. Linda Smith, White, Dicks, McDermott and Adam Smith voted no.

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