Ryan Budget Would Axe National Endowment for the Humanities
Over at Past in the Present, Michael Lynch flags the new budget proposal of Representative Paul Ryan, that would eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities. “Not cutting it, mind you,” Michael says, “but doing away with it entirely.”
It’s hard to overstate how important the National Endowment for the Humanities is to historical education and preservation in this country. It provides critical help to small museums, historical societies, archives, researchers, and documentary filmmakers. If you’ve ever visited a history exhibit, used an archive or historical society to research your family background, or watched a historical documentary, there’s a good chance you’ve benefited from NEH support. And the NEH budget accounts for barely a drop in the ocean of federal expenditures. Cutting it would have very little impact on overall government spending, but would drastically affect those institutions that benefit from it. In short, it’s a terrible idea.
It is a terrible idea, particularly since it gains virtually nothing in terms of reducing spending. The NEH budget of $146M represents about 0.004% of federal spending. Need a visual representation? Here you go:
See that blue slice of the pie chart, right up at the top? That’s NEH funding as a share of the whole. Don’t see it? Well, good, you get the idea. NEH funding isn’t a drop in the bucket; it’s a drop in the damn lake.
Most Washington-watchers will argue that Ryan’s budget has little chance of becoming law. That’s true, but having now been part of his original bill, NEH funding inevitably becomes a bargaining chip in the
sausage-grinding budget-writing process. It’s on the table, as they say. We saw this happen in Texas a few years ago when Governor Perry’s proposed state budget completely eliminated the Texas Historical Commission — not an agency that was exactly swimming in cash to begin with. The THC survived, largely because a good bit of what they do is mandated by both state and federal law, but it devastated the agency, resulting in a roughly 40% cut in its budget and multiple layoffs. It was a bad business, and damaging to the agency’s ability to continue its mission. The THC’s County Historical Commission services, Texas Historical Marker Program, Museum Services, Historic Texas Cemeteries, Military History services, and field archeological services all were cut back to reduced levels of both funding and staff support.
Please contact your U.S. Representative, and urge him or her to support continued funding of the National Endowment for the Humanities at current — or better yet, pre-sequester — levels. One hundred forty-six million dollars doesn’t buy very much out of government normally — it’s about one-third the cost of an F-22 Raptor, an aircraft that was such a dog that even the Pentagon wanted to cut its losses and abandon it — but it goes a long way when it comes to supporting museums, cultural heritage and education programs.