Well, it looks like what we dreaded in January is one step closer to coming to pass. Trump’s budget plan calls for eliminating the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.
It was the first time a president has called for ending the endowments. They were created in 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation declaring that any “advanced civilization” must fully value the arts, the humanities, and cultural activity.
While the combined annual budgets of both endowments — about $300 million — are a tiny fraction of the $1.1 trillion of total annual discretionary spending, grants from these agencies have been deeply valued financial lifelines and highly coveted honors for artists, musicians, writers and scholars for decades.
Nothing will change for the endowments or other agencies immediately. Congress writes the federal budget, not the president, and White House budget plans are largely political documents that telegraph a president’s priorities.
Yet never before have Republicans, who have proposed eliminating the endowments in the past, been so well-positioned to close the agencies, given their control of both houses of Congress and the White House, and now the president’s fiscal plan. Reagan administration officials wanted to slash the endowments at one point, for instance, but they faced a Democratic majority in the House (as well as Reagan friends from Hollywood who favored the endowments).
As for 2017, it is unclear whether Republicans who are friendly to the endowments will fight their own party’s president on their behalf. Mr. Trump went ahead with the proposal even though his daughter Ivanka is a longtime supporter of the arts, and Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence, has been a staunch advocate for art therapy for years, being a painter herself.
Who benefits from these endowments? Well, you do, for starters—assuming you’ve ever read a history book or novel, visited a museum or historic site, used a library or website to research your genealogy, watched a documentary, attended an author’s talk, etc., etc., etc.
Would killing these endowments save money? Yeah, something like 0.006% of federal spending. That’s not hyperbole, by the way; that’s literally how much of the federal budget the NEH and NEA accounted for last year. Why anyone would want to kill agencies that do so much for so little is beyond me.
We really, really need to be contacting our lawmakers right now.
A horribly misguided proposal from 2014 now rears its head again. From The Hill:
Staffers for the Trump transition team have been meeting with career staff at the White House ahead of Friday’s presidential inauguration to outline their plans for shrinking the federal bureaucracy, The Hill has learned.…
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.
Overall, the blueprint being used by Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.
The proposed cuts hew closely to a blueprint published last year by the conservative Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has helped staff the Trump transition.
You’d think an organization called “The Heritage Foundation” would be more serious about programs that protect and interpret our, y’know, heritage.
Look, I don’t like extravagant federal spending any more than the next guy. But killing the NEH to reduce the federal budget is like cutting out a Tic Tac because you want to lose weight. Last year the NEH requested a budget of $148 million. That sounds like a lot of money, but it’s only 0.003% of federal spending. The NEA’s budget for last year was about the same, so eliminating both agencies would’ve saved a whopping 0.006% out of the $3.9 trillion the government spent in 2016.
And that 0.003% isn’t just for ivory tower academics. It benefits everyone. Ever read a popular history book? Watched a Ken Burns documentary? Used the Internet or microfilm for genealogical research? Visited a museum or historic site? If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” I can pretty much guarantee that you’ve benefited from an NEH grant.
Contact your representative and tell them the humanities are worth 0.003%.
Not cutting it, mind you, but doing away with it entirely.
It’s hard to overstate how important the National Endowment for the Humanities is to historical education and preservation in this country. It provides critical help to small museums, historical societies, archives, researchers, and documentary filmmakers.
If you’ve ever visited a history exhibit, used an archive or historical society to research your family background, or watched a historical documentary, there’s a good chance you’ve benefited from NEH support.
And the NEH budget accounts for barely a drop in the ocean of federal expenditures. Cutting it would have very little impact on overall government spending, but would drastically affect those institutions that benefit from it. In short, it’s a terrible idea.
I say again: Russell Kirk defined a conservative as “a person who endeavors to conserve the best in our traditions and our institutions,” and noted that conservatives believe the past to be “a great storehouse of wisdom.” If we can’t spare even a small portion of our public funds for history and culture, then what is it we’re trying to conserve?
Hat tip: John Fea