(CNSNews.com) - President Bush has once again antagonized his fiscally conservative base, this time by proposing a 15 percent budget hike for the National Endowment for the Arts.
The taxpayer watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste said adding an extra $18 million to the NEA's 122.5-million budget is particularly galling, considering that President Bush is expected to propose less of an increase for defense and homeland security.
A preview of Bush's fiscal 2005 budget indicates he will call for an increase of only 9.7 percent in defense and homeland security.
"With a 15 percent increase in the NEA and no offsets to finance this windfall, the White House is saying that promoting the arts is more vital than protecting the nation," Citizens Against Government Waste said in a press release.
Moreover, CAGW President Tom Schatz predicted that members of Congress will seize on the NEA budget increase as an excuse to hike spending on other domestic programs.
"The administration obviously believes the government should be in the business determining what has artistic value," Schatz said. But it has yet to draw up a list of business that the government should not fund," he added.
CAGW noted that the administration's proposed budget gives the NEA $140.5 million. The increase will go towards an arts heritage program, "American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius," that will tour communities in all 50 states. There will also be an educational initiative for schools that will include videos and study guides for jazz, Shakespeare, dance, and other forms of art, CAGW said.
"Anyone interested in art can go to their local museum and see comparable, if not the same exact work, that the government is going to spend $140.5 million to display," Schatz said.
Conservatives have long criticized the National Endowment for the Arts for funding questionable art projects - some of them sexually explicit or even described as blasphemous.
As CNSNews.com reported in 2002, the NEA has generated controversy for years, thanks in large part to taxpayer-funded works such as "Piss Christ," the photograph of a crucifix immersed in urine that received NEA funding in the mid-1990s and was subsequently attacked by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and then-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.).
Conservatives have crusaded against the use of tax dollars for such projects but haven't been able to muster enough votes in Congress to kill NEA funding.
In 1997, the House voted by a one-vote margin to eliminate funding, but the Senate and then-President Clinton prevailed in keeping the NEA alive.
"The NEA should be eliminated rather than enhanced, as it does not fit within the proper role of government," Schatz said.
"With a rising deficit and a war on terror, the president needs to exhibit more fiscal responsibility. This is not the time to be sending astronauts to Mars and displaying artwork. More now than ever, this country needs to get its fiscal priorities straight."
Citizens Against Government Waste describes itself as the nation's largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government.
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Higher Arts Funding Blasted (22 July 2002)