Amendment to Cut the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) / NEH Funding Heads to the Floor

Text by Dawoud Kringle

On July 16th, 2018, the House Rules Committee approved a potential amendment that funding to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) would be cut by 15% to each agency; a total of $46 million. The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI).

The administration proposed similarly reduced funding last year, but it was not adopted.

Grothman told the Rules Committee members that Congress should support President Trump (this, after Trump’s shameful and treasonous statements in Helsinki). President Trump wanted to terminate the NEA and NEH since his campaign in 2016. Grothman repeated the objectionable and ridiculous arguments that Trump and his supporters often used in the past on this issue, such as “private charities should do this work,” “it’s a local government role solely,” “cutting arts spending is looking out for our children and grandchildren.” and perhaps most ridiculous, “we can’t afford it” (the budget for both organizations account for approximately 1 percent of the federal government’s budget). Grothman believes this is a small but important step to rein in spending and would be “a vote for Trumpsters,” as he put it.

Long before he became president, Trump had been an outspoken opponent of the NEA. In 1999, when the Brooklyn Museum showed Chris Ofili’s 1996 work “The Holy Virgin Mary” (a painting of the Virgin Mary that includes elephant dung), Trump and many other conservatives railed against the NEA. At the time, Trump told the Daily News that, were he to be president one day, he would “ensure that the National Endowment of the Arts stops funding of this sort.” Ironically, but not surprisingly, Trump and his people were, and are still, unaware that the NEA had not funded the show.

Despite Trump’s opposition to the NEA and the NEH, he has bewilderingly not replaced Jane Chu, an Obama appointee, as chairman of the NEA. (William D. Adams resigned as chairman of the NEH this past May). At one point last year, actor Sylvester Stallone was reportedly being considered for the position, but he said at the time that he wouldn’t take on the role if it were offered to him.

The good news is that House and Senate proposals, which would instead increase funding for the NEA and NEH, are strongly supported on a bipartisan basis. Currently, the Interior bill would increase funding for both Endowments by $2 million. Record numbers of members signed letters earlier this year calling for a minimum of $155 million for each agency, which is met in the House and Senate bills. Now, House members will be held to account with this upcoming floor vote later this week.

This week, 170 amendments were filed to the House Interior bill, including the two amendments that would positively impact the NEA and NEH. The House Rules Committee is meet on Tuesday, July 17th, 2018 to make those determinations.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. House Interior Subcommittee was working on Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2019. This year’s House bill also includes specific support for the NEA and NEH to expand grant-making activities.

Next week, the U.S. Senate is expected to consider their version of the Interior bill. This bill was advanced in committee unanimously with full bipartisan support. The Senate bill would also increase funding to the Endowments by $2 million for FY 2019. The last time a bill similar to this saw a floor vote in the U.S. Senate was in FY 2010.

These floor votes will allow further consideration and opportunities for advocates to weigh in.