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Panel to Set Final NEA Funds: Congress May Bring Agency $103 Million, But Clinton Could Veto

Final funding approval for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is facing two more hurdles as the agency stands poised to receive an increased fiscal 2000 budget of $103 million. And the larger hurdle exists with the endowment's greatest supporter: President Clinton.

Clinton has no problem with the NEA itself, of course. But NEA funding is contained within the Interior Department monies, and the President has been frowning at the proposed $14 billion Interior Department appropriation Congress is preparing to offer him. That's $1 billion less than Clinton has called for, and he is reportedly considering a veto.

The President's displeasure with the proposed appropriation results from three portions of the bill, according to The New York Times: 1) Congress' two houses would only provide one-third of $800 million for purchasing state and federal park lands under Clinton's "lands legacy" program; 2) the Senate would prohibit the administration from increasing royalties that oil companies must pay for drilling on federal lands; and 3) the upper house also wants to ease public-lands waste-dumping restrictions on mining firms.

A veto would further delay NEA funding while Congress attempts to override the President, or reach some compromise. The federal government's new fiscal year actually began Oct. 1, and Congress' delay in budget approvals already has required special appropriations to keep agencies running.

A Pleasant Hurdle

Meanwhile, the NEA is presently facing the pending hurdle of a Senate-House special conference committee which will decide a final funding figure for the agency. The panel was expected to meet as early as Tuesday to begin discussions on a compromise between a $98 million appropriation proposed by the House, and the $103 million budget which the Senate has approved.

The endowment saw rather peaceful days during this Congressional session-as opposed to the last two years when lawmakers battled to keep the agency alive.

With hardly a hassle, the House-which actually had defunded the endowment a couple of years ago-saw its kinder, gentler members approve monies at the same level the NEA had received the previous year. That bill went to the Senate which, having traditionally given bipartisan support to the agency, felt even kinder, and upped the ante by $5 million.

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