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Senate group OK’s arts $

WASHINGTON — The Senate Appropriations committee gave its blessing Tuesday to a $100 million budget in 1998 for the National Endowment for the Arts, taking the agency one step closer to fiscal security for at least another year.

The Senate action to fund NEA comes just two weeks after the House voted to kill the arts agency. The full Sen-ate is expected to hold a final vote on the NEA’s budget before the end of the month.

The NEA’s $100 million allotment is a relatively minute element of the $13 billion Interior Dept. budget, but it the most controversial element of the spending plan. Conservative House Republicans have targeted the NEA for extinction, arguing that it has provided funding for obscene and sacrilegious art projects suited only to the tastes of the cultural elite.

Once the Senate holds its final vote on the arts agency, both houses of Congress will meet to hammer out their differences on the entire budget. President Clinton has threatened to veto the entire Interior Dept. budget if the NEA is not fully funded. The White House has proposed raising the agency’s budget to $136 million.

The Senate Labor & Human Resources Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the NEA, is scheduled to meet today to consider a proposal to raise the agency’s budget to $175 million. Although the Labor committee makes recommendations for NEA spending, only the appropriations committee can decide how much money to actually mete out to the agency.

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