WASHINGTON — An amendment by Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, (R) of Kansas, that would have cut appropriations for the National Endowment for the Arts from $143.5 million to $126.1 million was defeated in the US Senate by a 67 to 27 vote.The Senate voted to place strict curbs on grants by the NEA, with critics charging that the NEA still makes awards for "rotteness and filth" despite previous limits imposed by Congress. The Senate last week approved 68-28 an amendment to the NEA appropriations for fiscal 1992 that would forbid the use of NEA funds "to promote, produce, disseminate or distribute obscene materials." Specifically, the amendment offered by Sen. Jesse Helms, (R) of North Carolina, said that none of the grant money can be used for art or performances that "depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual or excretory activities or organs." Mr. Helms said that despite "all sorts of assurances" from NEA Chairman John Frohmayer "the situation has become worse, far worse." The senator said that Congress is getting "double talk ... from decadent artists who have taken control of the art community." "These people with their minds in the gutter can do what they want with their own money," Helms said. "There is a clear difference between censorship and sponsorship." Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, (D) of Ohio, the only senator to stand up to Helms, said NEA "tries to bring about a balance in the arts" and added that only because of Helms was Congress, once again, trying to "legislate in the art world." Helms criticized the "liberal" media for charging that he was trying to censor art while, at the same time, refusing to run photographs of the art to which he objects.