27 GOP’ers ask Gingrich to restore NEA funding

WASHINGTON — More than two dozen Republicans on Monday urged House Speaker Newt Gingrich to restore funding for the National Endowment for the Arts in legislation due on the House floor later this week.

“The economic and education benefits of the arts is clear,” said a letter signed by Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) and 27 other GOP lawmakers, many of them moderates from the Northeast. “The National Endowment for the Arts plays a vital role in ensuring those benefits reach communities across the nation,” they added, asking their leadership to show support for continued funding.

As approved by the House Appropriations Committee, the measure includes only $10 million in shutdown costs for the NEA for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1.

The agency received $99.5 million for the current fiscal year. President Clinton’s budget for next year is $136 million, and he has issued a veto threat against the proposal to eliminate all but $10 million.

The agency has long drawn opposition from conservatives, and Republicans tried unsuccessfully in 1995 to eliminate its funding. Both Gingrich (R-Ga.) and House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas have spoken out in recent months against continued federal funding for the NEA.

The letter to Gingrich was written in respectful terms, and did not ask the leadership to agree to any specific level of funding for the embattled agency. At the same time, it signaled that Gingrich, Armey and others will have a difficult time prevailing on the House floor in any attempt to phase out the agency.

Democrats generally support the agency, and Republicans hold a majority of 228-206, with one independent in the House. Funding for the NEA is contained in legislation providing money for the Interior Dept. and other agencies, and is expected on the House floor on Wednesday or Thursday.

Gingrich’s office had no immediate reply to the letter.

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