NEA Emerges Intact: Congressional Process Is a Tortuous Path

Article excerpt

The months of debate, the annual attempt by Sen. Jesses Helms (R-N.C.) to defund the agency, and a weeks-long delay in resolving Western land grazing rights may have seemed like deja vu, but they were in fact the elements of this year's federal arts appropriation process. On Nov. 11, President Clinton finally signed the 1994 Interior Appropriations bill, which included $170.2 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. Marshaling the bill through Congress proved difficult without a chairman at the NEA's helm to drive the process (Jane Alexander was not confirmed until late September), and the leadership vacuum--combined with Congress's deficit-reduction concerns and ongoing NEA controversies--resulted in the lowest annual appropriation since 1989.

After passing a House of Representatives vote in the summer--with a significant drop in appropriation from what the Administration had originally requested--the bill moved slowly through the Senate, where the Senate Appropriations Committee restored one-half of the House cut. The Endowment was further endangered when Sen. Helms offered three amendments to the bill on the Senate floor in mid-September--one to kill the agency entirely, a second to eliminate grants to individual artists and restrict funding to institutions, and a third to direct 70 percent of the NEA's program budget to state arts agencies for distribution.

Appropriations 1992-94

The following chart compares appropriations for fiscal years 1992, 1993 and 1994 (all figures are in millions) for the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and Institute for Museum Services.

FY   1992      1993      1994      1994     1994     1994

     Approp.   Approp.   Admin.    House    Senate   Final
                         Request   Passed   Passed   Approp.

NEA  $176.0    $174.5    $174.6    $166.2   $170.2   $170.2

NEH  $176.0    $177.4    $177.5    $177.5   $177.5   $177.5

IMS   $27.0     $28.8     $28.8     $28.8    $28.8    $28.8
In Millions

"The NEA is not supporting the arts all across the nation in an equitable manner," Helms criticized. "Rather, it is funneling most of the money to the big cities--where it is often used to help impose or promote a liberal, immoral, pro-homosexual and perverse culture on the rest of the country."

Despite Helms's attempts, all three amendments were defeated, and the bill was sent to a House-Senate conference committee where it finally emerged with the higher, Senate-approved NEA budget of $170.2 million, which was viewed as a victory for the arts in such troubled times.

At the same time, Sen. Helms announced a wait-and-see attitude about newly confirmed NEA chairman Alexander, promising a grace period of "at least a year or so in which she can concentrate on upgrading the quality of art supported by the American taxpayers." But his promise was largely responsible for the stall in the Endowment's reauthorizing legislation.

The House of Representatives passed a two-year reauthorization bill in mid-October by a vote of 304 to 119. Two damaging amendments attached to the bill were handily defeated: the Crane Amendment to abolish the NEA, proposed by Rep. Philip Crane (R-Ill. …