Politico has excerpts from an upcoming Mitt Romney interview in Fortune magazine, in which the Republican presidential candidate expounds on his plan to shrink the federal government and reduce spending. Depressingly, but not surprisingly, he targets arts funding, saying:

[F]irst there are programs I would eliminate. Obamacare being one of them but also various subsidy programs — the Amtrak subsidy, the PBS subsidy, the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to stand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf.

This means not a reduction in the funding for PBS or either of the National Endowments but complete elimination. Goodbye, NEA! It’s been a wild ride. (On a side note: Amtrak is already a hot mess. Privatizing it would seem to be the last nail in the coffin of nationwide public transport. Americans love their damn cars so much it makes me sick.)

Over at the Washingon Post, Ezra Klein points out how little money would actually be saved from cutting these programs, especially when you consider that Romney’s goal — to reduce federal spending and balance the budget — would require $9.6 trillion in non-defense cuts by 2022:

Here’s how it breaks down: In fiscal year 2012, the federal government spent $1.42 billion on Amtrak, $444 million on PBS, and $146 million on the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. Getting rid of all these subsidies would have saved the government about $2 billion this year — chump change relative to the scale of cuts that Romney wants.

You could, of course, make the argument that every little bit counts, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. But there’s a larger conversation here, about the role of the federal government in arts funding. Should we expect it — or at this point, after decades of struggling to hold on to just a little piece of the pie, should we let it go? Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress sums up the bigger philosophical question, about the role of the government:

Should the government perform functions only that we believe shouldn’t be allowed to be controlled by private interests, like control, regulation, and deployment of the armed forces? Or should it step into voids left by private enterprise and personal charity when there are important functions that don’t appear to be supported by the market?

But the issue is further complicated by the fact there’s more than one government — we have federal, state, and city governments, and funding is offered at all different levels. If we decide that promoting, say, a poetry program in schools is simply not the job of the federal government, does that then give a green light to local governments to drop the arts, too? Could it create a chain reaction down the line, until we end up with arts organizations left completely to fend for themselves, relying solely on endowments and private donors?

Then again, some might say that wouldn’t be the end of the world.

A big part of the problem, too, is that even though the arts do offer real-world economic benefits, they also offer intangible ones whose worth can’t be objectively measured and turned into an infographic. That makes arguing for funding a perpetually uphill battle. Maybe we would save ourselves some time and effort if we just let the governments do whatever they want — although arts organizations would still have to make their case, just to potential donors and voters instead.

Rosenberg astutely points out, though, that we’re not even having the right conversation yet. Romney is simply following in a long line of Republicans who have used claims of cutting arts funding as a diversionary tactic, a way to appeal to conservative voters without having to talk about what a smaller government would actually look like. Until that happens, PBS, the NEA and the NEH will continue to be used as pawns — knocked off the board by one politician and then tentatively placed back on by another.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...

27 replies on “Mitt Romney Says He Would Ax Arts Funding If Elected”

  1. It was disappointing that you left the economic benefits of arts funding and the creative industries at the end. Is even the art community serious about this??

    1. As Hrag said, Chris, I definitely hear you, but this post wasn’t specifically about that, so it didn’t seem to merit being included earlier.

  2. Just a comment about the author’s Amtrak comment. Amtrak has dug themselves into the hole they’re in – they no longer own most of the tracks they run on, and as a result, service is absolutely dreadful. I’ve taken Amtrak several times, and every single time, there is at least delay of several hours per trip. If you don’t want to fly or drive, Greyhound is a much better alternative. Okay, maybe you might sit in some traffic, but at least you’re moving a little bit. I do maintain that driving is usually the best option though, especially if someone is going with you. Even with the high gas prices, it is almost always cheaper than taking the train, plane or bus (unless you get a really cheap deal on Megabus or Bolt, provided they’re going where you want to go!).

    1. Yes, Amtrak IS always delayed! A total mess! But the logic that buses and cars are therefore necessarily better seems, to me at least, to actually be the reason for the mess in the first place! Admittedly I don’t know how much of the burden Amtrak bears for the disaster that is this country’s train system, but I would say there’s never been a real, sustained effort to create a system that would be an affordable, viable public service to rival cars. And that is a shame.

  3. I notice he didn’t list subsidies for oil companies. They are the most profitable industry the world has ever seen, and yet they can’t stand on their own?

    1. And lets not forget subsidies for the wealthy. They already get incredibly low tax rates.. Romney’s was around 13% the last two years when he made 20 million while not even having a job… but somehow they can’t be bothered to “invest in their businesses” or “create jobs” or whatever fabulous thing these rare, shy creatures do when we aren’t looking unless they have even lower tax rates.

  4. this article just tipped the scale for me from really really not wanting Romney as pres to really really really not wanting Romney as pres.

  5. Techno-capitalist governments will always function in the strictest opposition to all of the humanities anyway since their only mission is worldwide material subjugation rather than the ostensible platform of spiritual and societal freedom.

  6. This is so predictable, it would almost be a surprise if he didn’t say it. Republican’s have always hated PBS, the NEA and Amtrak with a passion completely out of proportion with the actual money going toward those budget items. It’s not really a matter of money or priorities. Nope, it’s more a happy coincidence to Romney: ‘Kill 2 birds with one stone: Make the social conservatives happy while saying that I’m going to cut something.’

  7. “Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or
    later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.” ~Mr. Hollands Opus.

  8. On the bright side, maybe Romney will create subsidies for “legitimate rape” . He’s trying so hard to get off all topic that generate negative news (his tax returns, Akin and rape, etc…) that in desperation he’s going to the republicans last remaining punching bag — Amtrak and the Arts. He’s given up on getting the conversation back to the economy which was the GOPs initial strategy. Don’t read this any other way — he’s throwing a hail mary. Wake me up when the conversation turns to farm subsidies and repatriation of foreign earnings….

  9. what exactly is left to cut? The budget for the Marine Corps band is bigger than the entire NEA: Frankly, at this point, artists should just reject the entire arts funding system as it stands…..its run by middle brow career pencil pushers……the people who are in the business of killing art. Check how much is spent on the military, and how much on the arts. This is a non topic.

  10. Honestly, what gets my goat as an upstate NY citizen is his lack of Amtrak support. It’s a mess, well no sh_t! Have you ever seen Europe’s rail system? Or even better yet, Japan? I won’t even digress into the conversation on where we are on that technological scale. It is what it is but it is a great service to a good portion of rural people and I find the ride comfortable and the workers courteous and diligent. I depend on mass transit to go to NYC and so do many other upstate folks. Amtrak may be a “wreck” but it’s the only way for us poor (read 99%) people to go far distances besides our aging and costly airline system. With larger cities and in a big spread out state like New York with all this rural space, it’s integral to country folks getting around. The lack of foresight on Romney’s part here just seems elitist.
    Oh yeah, I forgot. He IS elitist. Just check his tax forms. Oh yeah, I forgot. There’s nothing to see. But smoke and mirrors.

    1. You’re spoiled. The majority of the country does not have a rail system. We use our cars or don’t go. Amtrak hasn’t made a profit in a long time and I’m sorry if there are more important things needed to run the country than making sure you can go to a Broadway show without paying for parking. Why should hungry, out of work people pay for your LUXURY?!

      1. I hate to break it you, but you’re the one who’s incredibly spoiled to have a car! And yes, you’re right, the majority of the country does not currently have a rail system—and it should. That’s exactly the point.

  11. I’m just as pro-arts as the rest of you (I’m a music teacher!), but I don’t believe that the NEA should operate using federal funds. If you read about the history of the NEA, you’ll see some of the things that our tax dollars have supported (did you know our tax dollars went to Andres Serrano, the guy who created art with his own urine– “Piss Christ”??). Our country, economically speaking, is nearing a state of chaos. Some things have to go if we ever hope to balance our budget.

    Truth is, we can all support the arts on a local level, starting in the schools and promoting the arts with our friends and colleagues. I don’t think our tax dollars are necessary to strengthen the arts. (The professional orchestra in my hometown, which is struggling financially like everywhere else, is largely supported by private donation. Imagine that.)

    Romney 2012.

    1. Funding from the NEA is not just allocated to local artists and programs. The NEA provides the means for preserving our cultural artifacts e.g. The Declaration of Independence, the Liberty Bell, etc.

  12. Want to support PBS? Give em your money by pledging or buying some Big Bird toy – us underemployed and unemployed people have faith Bert and Ernie can get creative without our help.
    2 Billion might be ‘chump change’ but is enough to pay 40,000 teachers a salary of 50k a year – but yeah Big Bird is more important.

    1. First of all, it’s less than $2B, less than $1.5M, actually. Second, the money we’re talking about here would not be shifted to any other federal programs like ones to pay teachers; it would simply be cut. Third, do you really think that Romney would elect to spend an extra $2B on teachers and schools even if he had the money? Fourth, if you still want to try to find an extra $2B, I suggest you to take it out of the absurdly bloated federal budget for, say, the military.

Comments are closed.