Congress Ends Debate on NEA - For Now

IN an 11th-hour decision, Congress agreed last week to continue funding the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) without new content restrictions, bringing to an end a heated two-month debate - at least for now.The Senate voted 73 to 25 to table an amendment by Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina that would bar funding of "patently offensive" art, a measure which members of the arts community say promotes censorship. Senator Helms's move was a last-ditch attempt to thwart a Senate-House compromise on the Interior Appropriations bill that funds the NEA: There will be no new content restrictions on arts grants in exchange for eliminating higher cattle grazing fees on federal lands. NEA opponents decry the deal as "corn for porn." Arts supporters are pleased. The vote "shows that the procedures that Congress put in place last year are sound.... The Constitution stands intact," said NEA chairman John Frohnmayer. Funding for the agency stands at just under $176 million, as does last year's stipulation that obscenity decisions are to be left up to the courts. The dust has settled, but "I don't think Helms is going to back off," says Julie Penn, of the American Council for the Arts. Next year's reappropriation will bring another round, she predicts. So "we need to maintain our momentum."

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