House Majority Leader Signals Intentions on the National Endowment for the Arts

Letter from House Majority Leader to the NEA

Background: The office of the House Majority Leader released this letter on March 26, 1997.

During the 104th Congress moderate and conservative Republican Members of Congress made an agreement to phase out federal funding of the National Endowment of the Arts over three years. Under this agreement conservative Members of Congress agreed to vote for some NEA funding for FY1997. In exchange, moderate Members agreed to join with conservative Members and vote for no federal NEA funding at the end of three years. It is because of this deal that conservative Members voted for any NEA funding at all for FY1997.

Recently some moderate Members have said that they will violate their agreement. This has frustrated conservative Members who made an agreement in good faith and who stuck to their end of the bargain. They still want to end funding for the NEA, and want the House leadership to pursue this goal. However, there has been some concern that the House leadership will not join them. One reason given is that, due to moderate defections, there are not now enough votes in the House to end all funding of the NEA.

With the release of this letter Majority Leader Dick Armey ended some speculation about where he stands on the issue. As of this writing a great deal else about this issue remains unresolved.

March 26, 1997

Jane Alexander
National Endowment for the Arts
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C.

Dear Ms. Alexander:

Recent media coverage may have led you to believe that funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is virtually assured. I am writing to advise you of my intent to continue pursuing elimination of the NEA.

Balancing the budget, as pledged repeatedly by this Congress and the President, requires us to prioritize how we spend American families’ hard-earned tax dollars. The President has requested a 40 percent increase in funding for the NEA, and less than a 2 percent increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health. This request simply does not reflect the priorities of the American people or of this Congress. It would be fiscally irresponsible to continue this program, which robs from the poor to entertain the rich, when other programs have a much greater claim to both need and effectiveness.

Arts are a valuable part of our culture and are often worthy recipients of private support. Since NEA funding is a mere one percent of arts funding nationwide, I’m confident that you and your staff can encourage private patrons to more than replace government funding. Americans are cheerful givers. In an era of fiscal responsibility, it is incumbent upon all of us to stop looking to the taxpayer, and look instead to those who can afford to give.


Dick Armey
Member of Congress

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