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What the Election Results Mean for the Arts

Most of the nation has happily put the elections behind them and are looking forward to the holidays but here at the Arts Action Fund we wanted to take a few moments to explain what the elections mean for the arts and arts education.

There will be more than 100 freshmen entering Congress this year – 16 new Senators and 94 new Representatives. This new group entering the House of Representatives means the House will switch from a Democratic majority to a Republican majority. Why does this matter for the arts? Well, it means that the leadership will change and the current all “A” Member leadership team will be replaced with an all “F” leadership team according to the 2008 Congressional Arts Report Card. In these tough economic times this change in leadership will add another challenge to defending the arts and arts education. 

In addition, the switch in party control of the House means that the Committee Chairs will be changing; Chairmen set the agenda for their committees by determining which legislation they consider. This will mean there are lots of new Chairmen that need to be educated on the value of the arts and arts education in their communities and the country. Beyond the Chairmen, there will be many new Members to educate as well. Some incoming Members are focused on an agenda to cut any spending they see as frivolous such as Steve Chabot (R-OH) who is returning to his previously held seat and has voted several times to cut the NEA completely. Others, such as former Providence mayor David Cicilline (D-RI) who implemented many arts-based business solutions to spur economic revitalization of the city, already know the value of the arts.

While the Senate will see many new members they won’t see as many changes as the House of Representatives as Democrats maintained the majority. This means that Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) will remain Chairman of the committee that controls NEA funding and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) will remain Chairman of the committee that controls arts education. They’ll be joined by several new Senators who were formerly in the House of Representatives and earned an “A” on our 2008 Congressional Arts Report Card such as Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Rep. John Boozman (R-AR). However, they’ll also be joined by some incoming Senators who don’t value the arts and arts education like former Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) who voted for numerous anti-NEA amendments between 1991 and 1997 and Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) who has called the NEA “inefficient and wasteful” and even offered an amendment in 2004 to terminate NEA.

Until these new Members take office in January, Congress is operating in what is known as a lame duck session. This means the 111th (current) Congress has until the end of the year to take care of all their outstanding business – and they have a lot of outstanding business. Most importantly for the arts and arts education, they have not passed a budget which means two things 1) it will likely be put in a continuing resolution, which simply means they auto-fund things at the current level and 2) the new Congress will review the budget soon after taking office. 

Many of the incoming Members of Congress ran on platforms that included balancing the budget or reducing spending and it seems likely they will be tackling this fairly soon after taking office. All too often the arts are seen as expendable and are one of the first areas to be cut – we’ll be working hard to show that many economic benefits of the arts and arts education and hope you’ll join us.

For a more in-depth analysis, listen to Nina Ozlu Tunceli, Chief Counsel of Government and Public Affairs at Americans for the Arts and Executive Director of the Arts Action Fund, as she shares some of her personal insights from the recent elections.

Podcast: download

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