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Zero for NEA, NEH, PBS? Colin Powell Prefers Military Cuts

Rep. Scott Garrett (R., NJ), chairman of Republican Study Committee’s Budget and Spending Task Force

As we eagerly await President Obama‘s “State of the Union” address tonight, wondering whether the arts will merit a passing mention, it’s gratifying to know that former Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a recent discussion with Candy Crowley on CNN, added his voice to those of us who are struck by the absurdity of Republican suggestions that eliminating federal funding for arts- and humanities-related agencies can make a meaningful dent in the deficit.

In its proposed Spending Reduction Act, the Republican Study Committee—“a conservative bloc that counts more than two-thirds of House Republicans as members” (as described by David Herszenhorn of the NY Times)—recommended no funding at all for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities ($167.5 million apiece this year) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ($445 million). The overall goal of the Study Committee’s laundry-list of cuts is to save an average of $250 billion a year. The three cultural cuts would account for three-tenths of one percent of that total.

But do not be overly alarmed, art-lings (at least not yet). Herszenhorn notes:

The cuts would require the agreement of the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House, which is highly unlikely.

That’s not to say, however, that reduced appropriations for for the arts, humanities and public television won’t be used as easy bargaining chips in negotiations to arrive at a budget agreement.

Here’s what Powell has to say about all this:

You can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Arts. Nice political chatter, but that doesn’t do it.

Instead, this retired four-star general recommends cuts in military spending, saying that he does not believe that “the defense budget can be made sacrosanct and it can’t be touched.”

Here’s NEA’s response to the Republican Study Committee’s salvo, from Jamie Bennett, the arts agency’s director of public affairs:

It is, of course, unfortunate that the Republican Study Committee has proposed zeroing out the National Endowment for the Arts. However upon a little investigation, it is clear that eliminating the agency will neither help address the budget deficit nor spur job creation.

A dollar invested through the NEA is matched by $7 of additional investment and generates $26 in economic activity. This means that last year, when the NEA invested $138.5 million in 2,723 grantees across the country, the result was $3.6 billion in economic activity in the community.

We have 5.2 million arts-related jobs and two million full-time artists in this country, and we look forward to working with the members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who understand these constituents and who understand the role that the arts play in creating vibrant communities.

an ArtsJournal blog