115th Congress Planning Guide for the Arts

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Date:   January 24, 2017

Re:       Trump Administration & 115th Congress Planning Guide

This is a quick summary of the state of play relating to the Trump Administration and the early days of the 115th Congress. While news of a threat to the NEA has surfaced, actual legislative action is still weeks and months away – but our advocacy should start now. Also, the Arts Action Fund is coordinating grassroots advocacy with our state and local members.

The First 100 Days

  • Congressional Budget Resolution – expected in February to call for termination of NEA, NEH, IMLS and public broadcasting as in previous resolutions (but disregarded by GOP appropriators in recent appropriations bills).
  • Trump Administration Budget Request – as leaked in The Hill newspaper article, an initial Trump budget proposal is expected in late February, it may include similar language to the previous congressional budget resolutions calling for termination of the NEA, NEH and privatizing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. A detailed Trump budget proposal is expected in May.
  • Appropriations Process for FY17 & FY18 – A Continuing Resolution is in place for FY17 until April 28th. The FY18 cycle will begin in March. That’s the vehicle that will contain options like: increase or level-fund the NEA, call for termination or perhaps call for combining NEA and NEH as a way to create savings. House and Senate appropriations committee action will finish by July 4th.
  • Tax Reform – details of GOP and Trump proposals expected soon, including provisions on charitable giving. The legislative action will take place through the fall.
  • Obamacare – coverage options for artists might be threatened by the “repeal and replace” process

Additional Issues

  • Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal education law. With Betsy DeVos’ nomination to lead the U.S. Department of Education, the continued implementation of this law hangs in the balance. Her family foundation supports the Kennedy Center’s DeVos Institute for Arts Management, but her policy views on arts education in a K-12 setting are unknown. Interestingly, the Trump Transition website did include a reference to “STEAM”, so we’ll be following up on that. 
  • A major Trump campaign promise is to boost infrastructure spending – although it’s unclear if the plan might help cultural institutions. A proposal by two senior Trump advisors calls for $1 trillion in expenditures over 10 years by providing $137 billion in tax credits to private businesses. Right-leaning economists have criticized the plan as it doesn’t include state or local governments, nor define what “infrastructure” means. We can expect to learn more details about the proposal in the first 100 days. Separately, Senate Democrats are introducing their own infrastructure plan this week. 
  • The President’s Committee for the Arts & Humanities will need to be sustained via a Presidential executive order by 9/30/17 when its current two-year authorization expires. We will need to confirm with new White House staff that they are planning to take this action. 

Arts Advocacy Day Topics

Note: Arts Advocacy Day is March 20-21 in Washington DC, all arts leaders are strongly invited to attend. It is the largest arts advocacy event in Washington and includes 85+ national partners.

  • NEA – we’ll support the NEA and call for a $155 million funding level (currently $148 mil)
  • CREATE Act – we seek to build congressional sponsorship of legislation introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) to support artists and entrepreneurs through 14 provisions seeking aid from various federal agencies. These provisions include assistance for individuals and organizations through the Small Business Administration, Economic Development Administration, Rural Development Administration and FEMA disaster assistance, to name a few.
  • Transportation – we seek to reverse a new prohibition on federal funds being used for arts-related aspects of transit projects.
  • Arts & Health – we’ll have one issue brief addressing arts and healing among the military service-members and veterans, and a second brief calling for greater support and research for creative arts therapy.
  • Additional issues – see the Congressional Arts Handbook for further details on policy issues. 

Immediate Actions to Take:

  • Take two minutes to send your Member of Congress a quick email opposing the possible cuts the NEA. We’re also pursuing the appropriate White House staff contact(s) and will be adding action to take with the White House soon.
  • Register for you and/or your staff to attend Arts Advocacy Day. The policy briefings and advocacy strategies presented there are directly applicable to local purposes.
  • Make sure you and your colleagues are signed up for the Arts Action Fund E-Advocacy alerts – that’s how we notify the sector of the latest legislative actions, threats and responses.
  • Look for ways to engage your members of Congress at home (House and Senate). Make sure they’re on the invite list for all your cultural events and look for a way to build an event with them and local NEA grantees. Other options are to build a town hall meeting for them around cultural issues, or offer to organize a roundtable of cultural leaders for a meeting. We have toolkits to take action as an individual and as an organization.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. So the Hill article says the NEA is going to be terminated? The Hill article was about two transition team members putting together suggestions for the Trump budget proposal. Both of these individuals worked for the Heritage Foundation which has been calling for the NEA to be shut down since 1997. It’s not clear if their suggestions will be incorporated into a final Trump budget proposal to Congress.
  2. Can President Trump take action against the NEA right now? No. The NEA is an independent federal agency and the executive orders you see him signing right now don’t affect it. While he can call for Chairman Chu’s resignation, it takes an act of Congress to make permanent changes to the NEA.
  3. Were the cultural agencies singled out for termination? No, the article mentions suggested cuts (in the billions) to the Departments of State, Commerce and Energy, among others.
  4. Is Congress about to terminate the NEA? No. There’s a series of about a dozen procedural steps that Congress and its committees must take to move legislation that would terminate the NEA. We’re at the very beginning of that process and the first steps would begin next month.
  5. What are the chances we can stop this? Making predictions on the outcomes of Congress is a very bad idea. However, the last time Congress saw votes to cut the NEA was in 2011, and the key vote was defeated, preventing a $10 million cut. This is because there is bipartisan support for the NEA.
  6. What about sending people to sign the White House petition in support of the NEA? The “We The People” site that was initiated by the Obama Administration is still operating, but I would not consider it a promising way to contact the Administration until they have publically committed to it.
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