The Senate put an extra $4 million in the fiscal 2000 budget for both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, giving the agencies their first substantial increase in several years.
The bipartisan move, sponsored by Sens. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), James Jeffords (R-Vt.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), was approved late Tuesday night, with a number of senators speaking broadly of their support for the agencies and no one lodging any opposition.
"It is time we gave the NEA a chance to show that it has changed," argued Reed. "Let's give it the opportunity to do what we've asked it to do--to get more grants to new rural and urban areas, to do more in the area of arts education, and to help us rebuild our cities and make them more attractive places for people to live and work."
Jeffords said the reach of both agencies needs to be expanded. "With the additional money that we are requesting today, NEA and NEH could further expand their outreach efforts with an eye towards introducing more Americans, many for the first time, to the beauty of dance, the spectacle of theater, the enchantment of reading and the magic of the museum," he said.
Both endowments suffered 40-percent budget cuts in 1996, and the arts agency was high on the hit list of Republican leaders. The NEA's critics said that the agency had made too many mistakes in granting funds to artists and groups whose work was distasteful. They also argued that the federal government shouldn't subsidize the arts.
The two agencies had each won a $1 million increase in committee, so the money approved Tuesday would mean an overall boost of $5 million each. That would bring the NEA's budget to $103 million and the NEH's to $115.7 million.
Several hurdles remain for the two cultural agencies. Their budgets are part of a larger Interior Department appropriations package, which still needs Senate approval. Then the House and Senate targets have to be reconciled in a Senate-House joint committee before a final figure is reached. The House has approved $97.5 million for the NEA and $110 million for the NEH.