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Republicans and Democrats Fight Hard For Arts Funding

by Countable | 4.13.17

Congressional leaders have begun actively pushing back against President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint for 2018, which proposes to entirely eliminate the $148 million budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

It began with a bipartisan letter in mid-February from 24 senators that was sent directly to the president, and highlighted the economic and cultural impacts of the NEA. It also pointed out that congressional support of the arts is enshrined in our Constitution:

"The ideals of these agencies are enshrined in our Constitution as a fundamental tenet of American civil society. Article I, Section 8 explicitly empowers the United States Congress to promote the “Progress of Science and useful Arts." The importance of federal support for these activities inherently aligns with the founding principles of this country.”

Then, on March 22 former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee published a blistering op-ed in the Washington Post championing the work of the NEA. His attacks on "hateful high-dollar Hollywood and music-industry stars" and their “insufferable political whining” are similar to his rhetoric on the campaign trail, but you might be surprised by his referencing Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In the Wall as an image of what education without the arts would look like:

"Music and art deliver, especially for students likely to get lost in an education assembly line that can be more Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall" than about creative thinking and problem solving.”

He also made a strong case for the broad economic impacts of the arts, especially in comparison to other industries, saying that the arts are a strong nationwide economic driver:

"But if the decision is to be made on purely economic grounds, consider the case laid out by advocates Earle I. Mack, Randall Bourscheidt and Robert L. Lynch in a recent op-ed in the Hill: The arts are a $730 billion industry, representing 4.2 percent of our gross domestic product — more than transportation, tourism and agriculture. The nonprofit side of the arts alone generates $135 billion in economic activity, supporting 4.1 million jobs. President Trump rightfully wants to end the U.S. trade imbalance, but the American arts generated a $30 billion trade surplus in 2014, on the strength of $60 billion in exports of various arts goods."

On March 30 150 members of Congress, including 11 Republicans, sent a letter to the chairman of the House subcommittee that provides annual appropriations for the NEA, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), and the ranking member, Rep Betty McCollum (D-MN), asking for the committee to not just continue NEA funding at the current federal level but increase it, from $148 million to $155 million.

The letter quotes much of the same data around the arts as an economic driver that both the February letter and the March op-ed do. It also notes that "students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPA’s and standardized test scores and lower drop-out rates." But it takes a new strategic tack, noting the positive impact that NEA funding for art therapy has already had on the lives of the military community:

"In addition to grants made to every Congressional district, national research and critical partnerships with the states, the Arts Endowment is at the forefront of a national effort to support arts and health in the military. The launch of the Creative Forces Healing Arts Network in October- an expanded partnership between the NEA and Department of Defense- now further increases access to therapeutic arts activities in local communities for members of the military, veterans and their families. Creative Forces continues the successful work of the NEA’s Military Healing Arts Partnership to bring healing arts to more service members, veterans and families in both clinical and community settings. As the NEA may continue to build existing programs into this network with federal investment, every state will benefit from this program."

President Trump’s budget proposes cuts to many programs, including the NEA, in order to provide for a $54 billion increase to military spending. The budget blueprint states:

The core of my first Budget Blueprint is the rebuilding of our Nation’s military without adding to our Federal deficit. There is a $54 billion increase in defense spending in 2018 that is offset by targeted reductions elsewhere. This defense funding is vital to rebuilding and preparing our Armed Forces for the future...The defense and public safety spending increases in this Budget Blueprint are offset and paid for by finding greater savings and efficiencies across the Federal Government. Our Budget Blueprint insists on $54 billion in reductions to non-Defense programs. We are going to do more with less, and make the Government lean and accountable to the people.

Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, Karen Pence, has committed to continuing her work to support art therapy as part of her efforts as Second Lady. This highlighting of the work of the NEA through Creative Forces may, therefore, be a strategy that actually appeals to the administration on multiple levels and preserves the NEA. Already, over a third of Congress hopes so.

Should Congress fight to preserve funding for the NEA? Use the "Take Action" button to share your opinion!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Cpl. Andrew Johnston via Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

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