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Breaking Ranks On Arts Funding

Letter to Gingrich from 28 GOP members says they'll support arts agency

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 8) -- A group of Republican House members have indicated in a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich that they will support funding the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Twenty-eight Republican congressmen signed the letter, released on Monday, including New York Reps. Rick Lazio and Benjamin Gilman and Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa.

"This federal seed money has bolstered the arts industry, supporting nearly a million jobs across the nation," the letter said. "In return, the arts have given back to the federal government, producing $3.4 billion in revenue."

In this year's budget proposal, the Republicans allocated only $10 million for the NEA in the next fiscal year. This amount would be just enough to close down the agency. President Bill Clinton, a strong supporter of the NEA, has asked for $160 million, while congressional Democrats have requested $99.5 million.

Conservative Republicans have long opposed the arts endowment, but as the letter to Gingrich indicated, the opposition is far from unanimous.

Another letter to Gingrich released Monday came from 114 leaders of the business and academic world, including Xerox Corp. president Paul A. Allaire and former congressman and New York University president John Brademas.

"Our companies have, and will continue to, support the arts and humanities," they wrote in their letter. "However, the corporate world is not able to carry the entire burden of the cost of cultural access, awareness and education."

Congressional Democrats and NEA supporters would like a clear vote on the House floor this week on appropriations for the NEA. The issue is expected to come up later in the week when the House debates a $13 billion appropriations bill for the Interior Department, the NEA and other agencies. They might encounter a roadblock as early as Wednesday, however, when the Rules Committee addresses a procedural conflict that could prevent a vote on the bill.

The arts agency remains optimistic that if the House won't vote for more funds, the day can be saved in the Senate. "The prospects for the increase are excellent," said NEA's congressional relations director, Richard P. Woodruff. "There's broad bipartisan support."

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