Republicans Eye Killing NEA, CPB

An advisory panel composed of over 100 Republican members of the House of Representatives has recommended ending all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The NEA is the federal government's chief source of funding for nonprofit theatre groups, dance companies, and arts presenters. The CPB is a major funder of noncommercial broadcast programming of the performing arts.

The Republican Study Committee recommended that the two agencies be eliminated as part of its "RSC Budget Options 2005" report. The 23-page analysis offers cuts in nearly every area of the federal budget, leading to savings of $102.1 billion in fiscal year 2006, five-year savings of $369.9 billion, and a decade's savings of $949.7 billion.

Presented by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the RSC's chairman, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the committee's budget and spending task force chairman, the study indicates that the lost federal funds could be made up through private sources.

"In 2001, America spent $27 billion on nonprofit arts funding: $11.5 billion from the private sector; $14 billion in earned income (tickets sales, etc.); and $1.3 billion in combined federal, state, and local public support (of which $105 million was from the NEA -- 0.39% of total nonprofit arts funding)," the report states. "The funding could easily be funded by private donations. Savings: $1.8 billion over ten years ($678 million over five years)."

As for public television, the report notes, "CPB, which receives $400 million annually from Congress, funds the Public Broadcasting Service at 15% of its annual budget. The other 85% of PBS's budget comes from viewer donations, local government, and universities. CPB and PBS continue to use federal funding to pay for questionable programming, such as a documentary on sex education funded by the Playboy Foundation. Additionally, much of the programming on PBS, such as 'Sesame Street,' could bring in enough annual revenues to cover the loss of federal funding. Savings: $5.6 billion over ten years ($2.2 billion over five years)."

The report does not indicate specifically how programs such as "Sesame Street" could raise that revenue.

The RSC has also recommended eliminating the National Endowment for the Humanities, which supports research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. "As with the NEA, the general public benefits very little" from the NEH, the report declares, "and it could easily be funded by private donations. Savings: $2 billion over ten years ($769 million over five years)."

A revised version of the report is dated Sept. 22. On Wed., Sept. 28, Americans for the Arts, a national arts advocacy group, alerted its membership to the threatened funding cuts. The organization said in an emailed "arts action alert" that the RSC was using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina as a rationale for the recommended cuts: "Needless to say, cutting this funding would not even make a dent in the need for hurricane relief, and at the same time it would deprive the affected areas of much-needed help in rebuilding their vital cultural sectors."

Although the RSC makes no mention of Hurricane Katrina in its report, the document is headlined "Operation Offset," a reference to the group's "effort to find savings in the federal budget to pay for hurricane relief," according to its website.

Americans for the Arts did not respond to questions about whether a House bill that would end funding for the NEA and the CPB was actually in the works. A call to Rep. Pence's office in Washington was not returned by press time Tuesday.