$160 billion federal deficit no hindrance to National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) funding, as 42 House Republicans join 191 Democrats to vote for $10 million budget hike.

WASHINGTON-Forty-two House Republicans joined 191 Democrats yesterday in support of increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The amendment, part of a $20.4 billion natural resources and arts bill, increased NEA funding by $10 million. The increase comes in the wake of a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report projecting a $160 billion federal deficit this year.

The vote surprised conservatives and anti-tax activists, who have decried NEA and NEH funding for years. Citing "obscene and inappropriate" projects, and wishing to keep the government out of subjective evaluation of artistic merit, Republicans fought to eliminate funding for both endowments after taking over Congress in 1995. Although they were unable to eliminate the programs outright, funding remained constant for seven years. But now, it seems the NEA is back on the old path of increased spending.

Taxpayer advocate Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) in Washington, called the vote "irresponsible," and added that "adding funding to the NEA and NEH, particularly at a time of war and deficits, is as obscene as much of the work funded by the NEA."

"Any member of Congress who votes for a $10 million increase in the NEA budget while the federal government runs a $160 billion deficit has lost all credibility on debt reduction," he continued. "This vote was the Maplethorpe of all spending measures."

While the War on Terror has substantially increased defense and homeland security spending, Congress has been unable to reign in other domestic spending. According to the CBO, the government already faces a $160 billion deficit. The almost 10 percent increase in NEA funding and another $5 million for the NEH are just parts of another multi-billion dollar appropriations bill.

ATR has long advocated the elimination of the NEA. Arguing that private foundations and financing can better provide for artistic development and judge the merit of artistic projects, ATR has consistently supported measures aimed at limiting the taxing and spending powers of the federal government. For a complete list of Republicans supporting the NEA spending measure, visit www.atr.org.