In Brief

Trump Team Plans to Eliminate National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities

The budget in the works by the Trump team allegedly calls for the complete elimination of the NEA and NEH, plus the privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

(gif by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

The Hill has gotten a first look at the federal budget in the works by President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, and it is, to put it mildly, brutal.

In an effort to reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years, the plan calls for the complete elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). In addition, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) would be privatized.

The NEA’s current budget is almost $148 million, which, according to the agency, represents “just 0.012% … of federal discretionary spending.” The NEH also has a budget of $148 million. The CPB receives $445.5 million. By comparison, the budget for the Department of Defense is $607 billion.

“The Trump Administration needs to reform and cut spending dramatically, and targeting waste like the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be a good first step in showing that the Trump Administration is serious about radically reforming the federal budget,” Brian Darling, Senator Rand Paul’s former communications chief and a former staff member of the Heritage Foundation, told The Hill.

The website notes that the Trump budget is modeled after a plan published last year by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank “that has helped staff the Trump transition.” That plan calls for the elimination of many more government programs, including the Minority Business Development Agency, Violence Against Women Grants, and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The Hill adds that Trump’s plan also aligns with a 2017 budget adopted by the conservative Republican Study Committee, which is a caucus representing a slight majority of (172 out of 247) House Republicans.

Trump has not yet announced his pick for a chairman to lead the NEA. Rumors abounded last month that he was considering Sylvester Stallone, but the actor quickly quashed them.

This is hardly the first time the NEA and NEH have been targeted by conservative politicians. In 1980, just three weeks after his election, Ronald Reagan reportedly considered the abolishment of both agencies. (Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” also comes from Reagan.) In the end, he opted to cut their budgets, which were further reduced drastically in 1996, under President Clinton, after a series of controversies involving the work of the NEA Four, Andres SerranoRobert Mapplethorpe, and others. The following year, the House of Representatives did actually vote to eliminate the NEA entirely (the count was 217–216), but the plan fell apart after further debate in the House and pressure from President Clinton.

President George W. Bush also repeatedly went after the CPB during his eight years in office; in 2008, he proposed halving the corporation’s budget.

As some have noted, incoming presidents often announce their intentions to eliminate various programs and agencies — even presidential candidates like Mitt Romney do it — and the NEA, NEH, and CPB are often among the chosen targets, perhaps because of what they symbolize. Fortunately, the president’s budget request is only the first step in a long, complicated budget approval process that involves negotiation with both the House and the Senate — though how much the Republican-majority Congress will push back against Trump remains an open question.

Correction: This article originally misstated the current budgets of the NEA and NEH; they are $148 million, not $146. We regret the error. It has been fixed.

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