NEA reauthorization may find fast track

Early indications point toward a fast-track treatment of this year’s reauthorization for the National Endowment for the Arts, sources said Friday.

After a day of hearings Thursday, a majority of members on the House Education and Labor Subcommittee appeared to be in favor of pushing through two-year reauthorization pacts for the NEA, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum Services.

The only dissenter to the plan was Rep. Richard K. Armey (R-Texas).

Sources said subcommittee chair Pat Williams (D-Mont.) asked each agency to submit a two-year proposal under current, existing laws, saying it was more prudent to expediently deal with the reauthorizations at this point. Williams did express an interest in taking a more “thoughtful” look at the NEA during its next reauthorization.

Among the areas that he said should be looked at in the future were arts in education and how the NEA can better “reach out to America,” according to sources.

The plan to push through a two-year reauthorization reportedly gained the approval of Rep. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.), the ranking minority member of the committee.

If approved, the NEA’s reauthorization would still have the decency clause attached. The clause states that grants are to be assessed on their “general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public.”

While a U.S. District Court judge in 1992 struck down that language as being broad, vague and “unconstitutional,” the U.S. Dept. of Justice is appealing that ruling.

The Justice Dept., meanwhile, is due to file its final brief on the appeal today.

President Clinton, who has yet to nominate an NEA chair or to even take a public stance on the agency, received a letter late last week from 27 writers asking that the Justice Dept. drop the appeal. Among those who signed the letter were Alice Walker, Stephen King, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller and Joyce Carol Oates.

Meanwhile, the reauthorization process for the NEA will continue on Tuesday when the subcommittee meets again to review a mark-up of the proposed law to reauthorize it for another two years. At that meeting, they will have the opportunity to vote on the matter.

If it is approved, it is scheduled to go before the Education and Labor Committee on June 29. Once through there, the plan will be up for a vote by the House before it goes into recess in August.