The Senate agreed to slash funding for arts and cultural programs Wednesday as part of a $12 billion spending bill but tempered the cuts slightly to assure the programs would survive at least another year.
Although senators agreed by a voice vote to restore $11 million to the arts endowments, the program still faces cuts of roughly a third from current spending levels.The House already has approved even deeper reductions for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities - about 40 percent - and envisions phasing out the arts subsidies entirely over the next two or three years. The Senate made clear it wants continued funding.
The cultural programs are part of the Interior Department spending bill, which was expected to get final approval by the Senate later in the day.
Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt., a staunch supporter of the arts subsidies, acknowledged past "embarrassments" as a result of federal funds going to support artists whose works later were criticized as being obscene or pornographic.
But Jeffords said restrictions on the use of the funds "will eliminate any possibility of that happening again." That was enough to gain conservative support for the modest spending increases.
"These endowments find themselves into small communities. . . . Only a small handful are controversial in any way - a pretty good track record," said Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.
But other senators criticized the severe funding reductions. "It still leaves the endowments terribly under-funded," said Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark.
The bill's floor leaders argued that any additional money for arts and humanities would cut even deeper into other programs for Indians, land management, protection of natural resources and energy conservation.
An attempt by several Western senators to restore $200 million in spending for the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs was rejected 36-61. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., argued the deep cuts would prevent Indian governments from providing basic services.
The Senate also directed the Interior Department to resume selling federal land and mining rights for as little as $2.50 an acre under a controversial 1872 mining law. Congress imposed a ban on such sales a year ago amid pressure to reform the 124-year-old law, which critics argue provide a windfall for mining companies.
Bumpers called the mining law "a scandalous anachronism" that allows mining companies to obtain federal land for a pittance and reap billions of dollars from gold and silver discoveries. Western senators argued that continuation of the moratorium would force mining companies to move overseas and abandon U.S. operations.
While rejecting Bumpers proposal to continue the ban, the Senate agreed to require mining com-panies to pay fair market price for the land, not counting mineral rights.