While most conservatives are trying to kill the embattled National Endowment for the Arts, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, saved it Tuesday - but couldn't save all its funding.
As House and Senate conferees worked out differences on a spending bill for arts and other agencies, Bennett was able to remove House language that would have banned spending any money for the NEA unless the agency is reauthorized."An authorization bill for the NEA is not going to pass the House, so we had to focus all our effort to get that language out of the bill," Bennett said.
"We succeeded, but had to accede to the House amount" of proposed spending for the agency next year - or $99.5 million instead of the $110 million the Senate had approved, Bennett said.
Bennett said, "When I realized that my choice was between $99.5 million and zero, then it was a fairly easy decision" - even though he said the agency really needs the higher amount.
"But this will keep it alive," he said.
The agency is unpopular with many conservatives - especially those in the House - because some of its grants have gone for projects they consider to be obscene or profane.
Bennett, however, notes that much of the funding for symphony orchestras, ballets and opera companies in many states come from the agency - and said it is worth saving.
He and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, have introduced legislation seeking to keep funding for the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities constant, but would combine them into one agency.