Conservative House Republicans have rallied behind the cry to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts. If the House has its way, the agency will get zip, nada, zilch in the next budget. But the Senate is another matter altogether, with a slew of less-than-conservative Republicans pushing for increased spending on the NEA. Vermont Republican Sen. James Jeffords wanted to lavish $175 million on the agency - quite the increase over its current $99.5 million budget. In the event, a Senate appropriation subcommittee voted to give the endowment $100 million for 1998, not exactly a lavish sum, but certainly enough to keep the lights on.
The most prominent argument for turning the lights off at the arts agency has been that the endowment's taste for the prurient is incorrigible. In a bid to save its skin, the NEA has tried to minimize the prominence it gives to scatological performance art, emphasizing instead its grants to lapidary arts organizations. With the Mapplethorpe issues on the back burner, the NEA has
tried to change the subject to the survival of the arts per se. Without seed money from the national endowment, goes the oft-repeated warning, charitable contributions to the arts will dry up like grapes in the Mojave. Hogwash. The NEA is at best irrelevant to the arts, and at worst, damaging. This, not the philistine urge, is the reason to nix the endowment.
It was none other than Rep. Sonny Bono who made the best argument for pulling the plug on the NEA. "I have been in the arts for 30 years," the California Republican said during the House debate. "I know of no one in 30 years in the arts who has been assisted by the NEA. …