With legislation to reauthorize the National Endowment for the Arts possibly headed for the House floor in the next 48 hours, endowment adversaries redoubled their efforts yesterday to stir opposition to a bipartisan compromise proposed by Reps. Pat Williams (D-Mont.) and Thomas Coleman (R-Mo.).
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) unveiled a petition signed by Phyllis Schlafly, the Rev. Donald Wildmon, Pat Robertson and 17 others stating that a vote for the compromise is "a vote to allow taxpayer-funded pornography to continue."
The Williams-Coleman compromise would not impose explicit restrictions on material funded by the endowment but would create penalties if a court determines that a grant recipient used NEA money to create works that are "obscene," according to the Supreme Court's definition of the term. Williams said yesterday that he is confident his proposal has enough support to pass.
Rohrabacher's petition observes that none of the works that have sparked the current controversy over the endowment would be found obscene in court. Nothing in the Supreme Court test "would bar such outrages as walking on the American Flag or putting a crucifix in urine or picturing Christ as a drug addict," the petition says. "A court in Cincinnati has just decided that even the Mapplethorpe S&M and child porn photographs are not obscene."
Rohrabacher said he expects "a close vote" on his amendment, which would outlaw depictions of "sexually explicit conduct" including "bestiality; masturbation; sadistic or masochistic abuse" and more. The legislation would forbid works that defile the flag or that use "any part of an actual human embryo or fetus."
Even if Rohrabacher's legislation passes, it could be overridden by a favorable vote on the compromise legislation. The unusual rule under which the legislation comes to the floor holds that the last bill passed takes precedence over any previously approved legislation. Accordingly, if the Rohrabacher amendment is approved and the compromise bill is subsequently passed, the compromise becomes law.
That has prompted Rohrabacher to complain that the committee has created a "fig leaf" for members of Congress who want to vote for his bill for political reasons and then vote for the compromise. "This is the kind of thing that makes people cynical about democracy," he said yesterday.
Williams responded that the terms of the debate were approved by Republicans on the Rules Committee. "That is a demonstration that Mr. Rohrabacher is so far outside the mainstream of his own party that his own Republican members of the Rules Committee oppose his position," Williams said.
The Rules Committee has set aside 30 minutes for debate of legislation sponsored by Rep. Philip Crane (R-Ill.) to eliminate the endowment and 30 minutes for Rohrabacher's proposal. The Williams-Coleman legislation, which would reauthorize the endowment for three years, will be debated for an hour.
The plan is to bring the NEA appropriation to the floor immediately after the endowment is reauthorized. While the appropriation passed without any content restriction, Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) won approval from the Rules Committee to introduce language requiring the chairman of the endowment to "ensure" that NEA-funded projects are "sensitive to the nature of public sponsorship ... take into account general standards of decency ... reflect the high place accorded by the American people to the nation's rich cultural heritage and to the fostering of mutual respect for the diverse beliefs and values of all persons and groups" and "are appropriate for a general audience."
Rep. Sidney Yates (D-Ill.), chairman of the Interior appropriations subcommittee, said he will fight the proposal but would not oppose Regula's request to bring it to the floor for a vote.