The House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior yesterday recommended that the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities be funded at levels about 75 percent higher than those proposed by the Reagan administration for fiscal year 1982.
The subcommittee recommended that the NEA receive $157.5 million in funds and that the NEH receive $144.6 million. Reagan had proposed figures of $88 million for the NEA and $85 million for the NEH. In effect, the Reagan-proposed 50 percent cuts (from the Carter budget) shrink to a 10 percent cut for the NEA and a 15 percent cut for the NEH.
"I don't think [the Reagan administration] will be happy," said subcommittee chairman Sidney Yates (D-Ill.), a staunch arts supporter, "but I think they would expect something like this from me, don't you?"
Aram Bakshian, a special assistant to the president who deals with cultural organizations, commented, "Let's just say the sucommittee certainly seemed to reflect the attitude of its chairman, and given the chairman, this is not necessarily a surprise. The action of the Yates subcommittee does not necessarily reflect the attitude of the rest of Congress. We'll just have to wait and see."
The arts community had been stunned and upset by the Reagan-proposed cuts to the two agencies, which had never suffered a cut in funding in their 15-year history.
"I think it's an essential program," said Yates about the two agencies, "and the subcommittee agrees with me."
The subcommittee amounts, which still represent cuts from current fiscal year funding levels of $159 million for the NEA and $151 million for the NEH, must next be approved by the full committee. Yates expects no problems in full committee -- when they meet in about 10 days -- or beyond. "I think it will go through the Congress," he said.
Said NEA chairman Livingston Biddle: "I think this is a tremendous tribute to Sid Yates and the subcommittee he leads, and to the concern, sensitivity and understanding that he and the members of his subcommittee express so well."
If the new figures are approved, the NEA could restore funds to "traveling exhibitions, programs for smaller groups, Expansion Arts, dance company touring, media programs -- the arts on television," said Biddle."Those are the things that suffer when the agency is cut back."
Not only are the NEA and NEH amounts higher than what the Reagan administration wanted, they are also higher than the funding ceilings which the House Full Committee on Education and Labor recommended Wednesday.
Those ceilings were $126.9 million for NEA and $121 million for NEH and they have yet to be approved by the full House.
The subcommittee basically disregarded those recommendations. "Who's approved it?" asked Yates. "Neither the House nor the Senate has approved it. Until we agree upon a resolution, there is no budget ceiling. What we did is perfectly proper."
The ceilings that Yates followed were the ones in a five-year authorization bill passed by Congress last year. According to that bill, the ceiling for NEA funding for fiscal 1982 is $189.5 million and the ceiling for NEH is $187.5 million.
Lisa Phillips, a member of the professional staff on the House Subcommittee on Post-Secondary Education, agreed that Yates at this point could disregard the ceilings just recommended by the House Education and Labor Committee. "The ceilings were recommended by the House and not approved yet," said Phillips. "Until that's enacted into law, he's not bound to look at [the recommended figures]. If the numbers recommended Wednesday are enacted, he will have to go back and change [his subcommittee's appropriations]. But he's perfectly legal."
Of the possibility of new ceilings becoming new law, Yates said, "That's something we will look at when it happens, if it happens. Everything is in such a state of flux."
Said Phillips, "That's quite intriguing that he sees more light at the end of the tunnel . . . Where are you going to take [the extra money] from?"