In a strong show of support for federal arts funding, the House of Representatives yesterday defeated, 271-150, amendments that would have kept next year's budgets for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities at this year's levels.
The vote was a victory for Rep. Sidney Yates (D-Ill.), whose subcommittee on the Interior Department and related agencies recommended $165 million for the arts endowment and $150 million for the humanities endowment. Both figures are 15 percent higher than current budgets for the agencies and more than 30 percent higher than the administration requested.
In a heated floor debate before the vote, Rep. John Hiler (R-Ind.) argued that his amendments would not jeopardize the arts and humanities in America. He said federal funding levels for the NEA and NEH could be frozen "with little impact on the overall good of our country," and called the recommended increases "unconscionable . . . of absurd proportions."
Yates responded that the Reagan administration has sought to cut NEA and NEH funding for years "on the theory that any reduction would be more than made up by private contributions. That just has not happened." Yates said private corporations and foundations "have appeared and told our committee they just cannot make up the difference."
Yates said federal support for the arts in the United States "is less than any other country."
At that point, Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), a member of the Yates subcommittee, argued that while this may be true, the federal government underwrites the arts by giving up enormous sums in tax revenues from corporations and other groups that make tax-deductible contributions to the arts.
"Total per capita expenditure for the arts in the U.S. is greater than any other country," Regula said. "It allows the individuals to make the choice rather than the central government."
Yates responded that he has tried to get the Internal Revenue Service to provide him with data on tax revenue lost through charitable contributions to the arts, but "there are no valid statistics."
Another subcommittee member, Rep. William R. Ratchford (D-Conn.), said dwindling state and local contributions to the arts make federal support "all the more critical."
Rep. Thomas Downey (D-N.Y.), chairman of the congressional arts caucus, said he has seen studies that show that the "lion's share" of charitable contributions doesn't go to the arts but to religious and educational groups.
After the vote on the amendments, the House passed, 272-144, the interior appropriations bill containing the NEA and NEH budgets. The Senate acts on the bill next.