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More Cultural Politics: Andrew Finch, AAMD’s Policy Director, on Congress’ Convoluted Budgetary Process

U.S. Senate Chamber Seating Map

U.S. Senate Chamber’s Seating Map

As I noted late yesterday, the draconian proposed Fiscal 2014 budget cuts for culture-related funding, as outlined yesterday by the House Appropriations Committee, are (thankfully) far from the last word on the subject.

At my request, Andrew Finch, the Washington-based director of policy for the Association of Art Museum Directors, walks us through the steps of the budgetary dance, putting yesterday’s shocker into perspective:

The President always submits to Congress a proposed budget [my link, not his], but Congress never simply accepts it. If Congress is run by the President’s party, it tends to give more deference, but it never gives the President everything he asks for.

If Congress is run by the opposition, it always says the budget is “dead on arrival,” but even then, it does pay some attention to the request. When Congress is split, as it is now, you get a combination. So the House is generally way off from what the President asks for, the Senate is closer.

The bottom line is that the President, the House, and the Senate have to agree for a bill to become law. If that doesn’t happen by September 30 (the end of the fiscal year) then we probably get a “continuing resolution” to keep the government running. Usually, that freezes the current spending levels until they all agree.

What has not happened in recent years is what they call “regular order.” In regular order, each chamber enacts its own set of appropriations bills (there are about a dozen, covering all agencies of the government), they go to conference, the conference strikes deals, both chambers approve, and the President signs them.

Rather, they’ve managed to do some bills but the rest have been lumped into “omnibus” packages, and the deals have been struck between the White House and the Congressional leadership, with conference just a formality. We saw something like that with the fiscal cliff, as you’ll recall. People are speculating about the specific scenario that will force the next deal but really, nobody can say for sure.

Re the National Endowment for the Arts’ budget: The Senate Appropriations Committee’s allocation for Interior and Environment appears to be $30.1 billion—substantially more than in the House bill [$24.3 billion]. In other words, the Senate Interior and Environment subcommittee has more to work with.

Finally, a heads-up: The House Labor-HHS-Education bill, which contains Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) funding, is due on Thursday. It will be even tougher than the House Appropriations Committee’s Interior bill, because it has an overall 24% reduction (as opposed to Interior’s 19%). We can’t yet say what that means specifically for IMLS.

In other words, stay tuned, art-lings, and stay connected to your elected legislative representatives.

Speaking of whom, a well known art writer today threw this link my way—a article from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) blasting Kentucky Republican Hal Rogers, chairman of the culture-cutting House Appropriations Committee, as the “Prince of Pork” for earmarking “millions of dollars’ worth of government contracts for a company whose owners and lobbyists have donated tens of thousands of dollars to his campaign and leadership PAC.” Rogers not only supports the arts cuts but also praises the proposed Interior appropriations for “holding back overly zealous and unnecessary environmental regulations” in “a difficult budget year.”

Where does the NEA stand on the House committee’s proposed 49% reduction in its budget? There’s nothing, at this writing, on the agency’s own website, but the College Art Association posted this statement that, it says, the NEA is using in response to press inquiries. In it, the agency asserts that the proposed $75-million NEA budget in the draft appropriations bill “would severely hamper the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission of investing in arts organizations throughout all 50 states.” It supports, instead, the President’s $154.5-million proposal for the NEA.

It might help NEA’s cause in the coming months if President Obama would finally get around to naming a respected, eloquent chairman to serve as spokesperson and advocate for the agency, succeeding Rocco Landesman, who stepped down at the end of last year.

an ArtsJournal blog