What We Need to Know: Cuts to the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities


The National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities are on the chopping block. This is not the first time we’ve seen this happen. In fact, it seems that every year we have to make a case to protect these agencies. However, with the new administration and new majorities in Congress, these agencies face an unprecedented threat. We have long suspected that the administration would target the NEA and NEH for budget cuts – perhaps even cut the agencies completely. The make-up of the transition team has heightened some of these concerns. Among those who have been working on White House budget priorities are John Gray and Russ Vought.[1]

Gray was formerly a Senior Editor at Conservative Review and has worked for Mike Pence, Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan. He is currently serving at the Office of Management and Budget. As a Heritage Foundation Research Fellow in 2015, Gray authored a piece that called explicitly for the federal government to stop funding the NEA and NEH:

The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, for instance, should be funded privately or at the state level.[2]

Vought was previously the Executive Director at the Republican Study Committee, a conservative caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, and has been the Vice President of Grassroots Outreach for Heritage Action for America, a 501(c)(4) that advocates for the policies of the Heritage Foundation. With Gray, he serves in the Office of Management and Budget.

Recent publications by the Republican Study Committee and the Heritage Foundation give us some insight into what we might expect from Vought. The Republican Study Committee’s "Blueprint for a Balanced Budget 2.0” argues that

The federal government should not be in the business of funding the arts. Support for the arts can easily and more properly be found from non-governmental sources. Eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts would save taxpayers $148 million per year and eliminating the National Endowment for the Humanities would save an additional $148 million per year.[3]

This document mirrors calls by the Heritage Foundation to cut funding for the NEA and NEH:

government should not use its coercive power of taxation to compel taxpayers to support cultural organizations and activities.[4]


Last week, a briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested that we should soon expect a budget proposal from the White House:

At this moment, the President has just wrapped up his discussions on the federal budget with some of the officials and staff who will be instrumental in the work to put this country back on a responsibly fiscal path.

Joining the meeting were Reince Priebus, the Chief of Staff; Steve Bannon; Jared Kushner; Gary Cohn, the Director of the National Economic Council; Secretary Steve Mnuchin of the Department of Treasury; Director Mulvaney of the Office of Management and Budget; Russ Vought of the Office of Management and Budget; and Emma Doyle of Office of Management and Budget.[5]

Reports this morning suggest that the White House will announce a budget proposal today to federal agencies. This will be followed by a more general outline to a Joint Session of Congress on Tuesday.

We should be prepared for a call to eliminate funding for the NEA and NEH.

Of course, cuts won’t happen if members of Congress refuse. Keep an eye out for what is happening in Congressional Committees.

The next date to look out for is a hearing on February 28, 2017 by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. This group oversees the NEH and NEA.

In the meantime, please consider contacting your representatives and expressing your strong support for continued funding for these important agencies.

Stay tuned for more posts on the NEA, NEH, and budget proposals.


[1] Alexander Bolton, "Trump team prepares dramatic cuts," The Hill (19 January 2017), http://thehill.com/policy/finance/314991-trump-team-prepares-dramatic-cuts, accessed 27 February 2017.

[2] John Gray, Nicolas Loris and Daren Bakst, "FY 2016 House Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill: Right on Regulations, Wrong on Spending," The Heritage Foundation

Issue Brief #4226 on Energy and Environment (26 June 2015), http://origin.heritage.org/research/reports/2015/06/fy-2016-house-interior-and-environment-appropriations-bill-right-on-regulations-wrong-on-spending, accessed 27 February 2017

[3] Republican Study Committee, "Blueprint for a Balanced Budget 2.0" (2017), 96, http://rsc.walker.house.gov/files/uploads/RSC_2017_Blueprint_for_a_Balanced_Budget_2.0.pdf, accessed 27 February 2017.

[4] Heritage Foundation, "Blueprint for Balance: A Federal Budget for 2017," (2016), 79-80 http://thf-reports.s3.amazonaws.com/2016/BlueprintforBalance.pdf, accessed 27 February 2017.

[5] The White House Office of the Press Secretary, "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer," #14 (22 February 2017), https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/02/22/press-briefing-press-secretary-sean-spicer-2222017-14, accessed 27 February 2017.