President Trump released his first federal budget plan early this Thursday morning titled, “America First,” with a subtitle reading “A Budget Blueprint To Make America Great Again.” Trump’s initial outline focuses only on discretionary spending.
As a part of Trump’s proposed budget, federally funded arts programs are on the chopping block. President Trump is proposing the elimination of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities among many other federally funded programs. (It’s important to keep in mind that the President can propose whatever he would like, but Congress is responsible for passing or striking down legislation.)
The president’s proposed budget would eliminate the NEA’s $148 million budget, and the NEH’s $148 million budget. Their elimination would be largely symbolic, signaling the Trump administration’s intent to slash spending it sees as wasteful. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said this week that Trump wants to ensure the federal government “spends money more responsibly.”
Trump’s daughter Ivanka is a longtime supporter of the arts, and Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence, has been a staunch advocate of art therapy for years. The loss of NEA funding would cripple Vermont’s Poetry Out Loud competition, a statewide poetry recitation program that involves 5,500 students, about 25 percent of Vermont high-schoolers and many other programs like that.
One person who would seem to have Trump’s respect spoke out publicly in favor of continuing federal funding of the arts in a Tweet from late January: “An artless nation is a spiritless nation, which is detrimental to the wisdom required for int’l diplomacy and govt. I encourage @POTUS to continue funding the @NEAarts and @NEHgov so we may represent the great American spirit abroad in the years to come,” said Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State.
Economist Romina Boccia said the federal government should get out of the arts-funding business entirely. “Federal art grants should be eliminated altogether, and it’s not necessarily due to the budgetary savings that can be had there, The arts are not a federal government priority. The arts are something that we do in civil society. It’s something that we do through our culture and that’s already happening. There’s no need for federal government involvement. When you have debt higher than at any time since Harry Truman, everything needs to be on the table, but at the end of the day, anything we do to reduce agencies, reduce discretionary spending will help.”
Office of Budget and Manager Director Nick Mulvaney sought to justify the controversial cuts at a briefing with reporters today. Asked specifically about the defunding of public broadcasting and arts programs, Mulvaney replied, “There are completely defensible reasons for doing that.”
He went on, “I put myself in the shoes of that steel worker in Ohio, the coal mining family in West Virginia, the mother of two in Detroit. I have to go ask these folks for money and I have to tell them where I’m going to spend it. Can I really go to those folks, look at them in the eye, and say, ‘I want to take money from you and give it to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?’ That is a really hard sell and it’s something we don’t think we can defend anymore.”
In response to today’s budget proposal, the heads of both the CPB and NEA issued statements.
Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, said:
“There is no viable substitute for federal funding that ensures Americans have universal access to public media’s educational and informational programming and services. The elimination of federal funding to CPB would initially devastate and ultimately destroy public media’s role in early childhood education, public safety, connecting citizens to our history, and promoting civil discussions – all for Americans in both rural and urban communities.
Public media is one of America’s best investments. At approximately $1.35 per citizen per year, it pays huge dividends to every American. From expanding opportunity, beginning with proven children’s educational content to providing essential news and information as well as ensuring public safety and homeland security through emergency alerts, this vital investment strengthens our communities. It is especially critical for those living in small towns and in rural and underserved areas.
Viewers and listeners appreciate that public media is non-commercial and available for free to all Americans. We will work with the new Administration and Congress in raising awareness that elimination of federal funding to CPB begins the collapse of the public media system itself and the end of this essential national service.”
Jane Chu, chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said:
“Today we learned that the President’s FY 2018 budget blueprint proposes the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. We are disappointed because we see our funding actively making a difference with individuals of all ages in thousands of communities, large, small, urban and rural, and in every Congressional District in the nation.
We understand that the President’s budget request is a first step in a very long budget process; as part of that process we are working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prepare information they have requested. At this time, the NEA continues to operate as usual and will do so until a new budget is enacted by Congress.
We expect this news to be an active topic of discussion among individuals and organizations that advocate for the arts. As a federal government agency, the NEA cannot engage in advocacy, either directly or indirectly. We will, however, continue our practice of educating about the NEA’s vital role in serving our nation’s communities.”
Photo by: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times