- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2000

The National Endowment for the Arts got a budget boost of $7.4 million from the Senate yesterday, setting the scene for a battle between House and Senate negotiators when they meet this fall.

The House voted last month to freeze the NEA's budget at last year's level of $98 million, despite a last-minute effort by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat, to give the NEA an extra $15 million. Republicans instead diverted the money to health services for American Indians.

Undeterred, NEA backers took their battle to the U.S. Senate, which voted 97-2 yesterday morning for the budget increase as part of a $15.4 billion Interior Department appropriations bill. Its sister agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities, got a budget increase of $5 million for a total of $120 million.

NEA spokeswoman Cherie Simon said the extra funds would undergird Challenge America, a series of programs for arts education in rural areas, increased artist residencies and mentoring in low-income housing projects, Indian tribal communities and juvenile-detention facilities.

Still ahead, however, are the shoals of the House-Senate conference committee, where a similar effort to increase NEA money ran aground last year. After a $14 billion Interior appropriations bill was stalled for two days over a proposed $5 million increase for the NEA, Senate negotiators gave up their fight on behalf of the arts agency.

House Republicans, who voted in 1997 to defund the NEA, have repeatedly said federal money should not be funding art. They cite previous grants to theaters or artists deemed so objectionable or sacrilegious that Congress made the NEA adopt a "decency standard" in 1990, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1998.

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