News & Politics

Once Again, Public Broadcasting and Arts Funding on the Budget Chopping Block

(Rex Features via AP Images)

For more than 20 years, conservatives in Congress have targeted several programs for elimination that, for one reason or another, have survived various attempts to rein in the budget.

Now President Trump and his newly minted director of the Office of Management and Budget, former Congressman Mick Mulvaney, are developing a hit list of nine programs for total elimination.

The list is familiar to most of us: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Export-Import Bank, the Legal Services Corporation, and AmeriCorps.

But all of those programs have strong backing among Democrats and even some Republicans, which will make eliminating them problematic.

New York Times:

Most of the programs cost under $500 million annually, a pittance for a government that is projected to spend about $4 trillion this year. And a few are surprising, even though most if not all have been perennial targets for conservatives.

Mr. Trump has spoken volubly about the nation’s drug problems, yet the list includes the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, which dispenses grants to reduce drug use and drug trafficking. And despite Mr. Trump’s vocal promotion of American exports, the list includes the Export-Import Bank, which has guaranteed loans to foreign customers of American companies since the 1930s.

Steve Bell, a former staff director of the Senate Budget Committee who is now with the Bipartisan Policy Center, said the programs identified in the memo are standard targets for Republican budget-cutters but of little significance in the government’s financial picture.

“It’s sad in a way because those programs aren’t causing the deficit,” Mr. Bell said. “These programs don’t amount to a hill of beans.”

Isn’t that the biggest problem in government? There are dozens — perhaps hundreds — of programs like the ones being targeted that the people can either do without, or that the federal government has no business funding. Sure, they all have their constituents who will scream bloody murder and accuse the administration of (pick one) a) heartlessness, b) shortsightedness, c) being engaged in a “war on the poor,” or d) being engaged in a “war on kids.”

Many of those programs have been attacked by conservatives since the Republican “revolution” of 1994. Led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, the House of Representatives at the time repeatedly went after funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, whose supporters dragged Big Bird and Kermit the Frog to Capitol Hill to make their case.

The Appalachian Regional Commission, an independent agency aimed at developing some of the poorest parts of the country, has also been a target.

These agencies have managed to survive partly because of powerful patrons in the Senate, including the late Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia. Even now, with 48 seats in the Senate, Democrats have considerable leverage to save popular programs.

Backers of the National Endowment for the Arts are likely to put up a particularly vigorous fight.

“The public wants to see agencies like the N.E.A. continue,” said Robert L. Lynch, head of Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit organization. “There is always a debate, but there has been agreement among Republicans and Democrats that funding for the arts is a good thing, and it has been kept in place.”

Other agencies on the budget office’s list of cuts include the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Corporation for National and Community Service, which finances programs run by AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps. The memo also proposed reducing funding for the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, a nonprofit organization focused on urban development.

The fact that the president has filled his administration with proven budget hawks — people who have been on the wrong side of the debate over federal spending for a generation — helps, but doesn’t guarantee success. We can expect Senate Democrats to use the filibuster whenever the opportunity presents itself, in order to keep most of these programs alive.

The president has his work cut out for him.