Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Ryan Budget Would Axe National Endowment for the Humanities

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on April 5, 2014

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:

NEH Cuts

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.



12 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. valleau said, on April 5, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    Hear, hear!

  2. Rob Baker said, on April 6, 2014 at 10:03 am

    I got an email about this from the Georgia Association of Historians. This is like whats his name who wanted to slash PBS. These people make incredibly stupid points as if they are going to tremendously cut back government spending. I don’t think the American people truly understand how much the government spends. When they see something like cutting PBS or NEH, and these politicians claim 146 million in cuts, it causes this bizarre range of support like so much is getting done.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 6, 2014 at 10:24 am

      If you recall, the “sequester” began as a sort of doomsday-lite budgetary option, agreed to as sort of pre-programmed series of across-the-board cuts that were supposedly so awful to the politicians on both sides of the aisle that it would force them to come to an agreement before they kicked in, to avoid them. Sure enough, they didn’t get it done, the sequester took effect (the initial phase of it, anyway), and now those spending cuts, that had been thought of as being so arbitrary and ill-considered that they would really be alowed to happen, are the new normal, the new baseline of government spending.


      • Rob Baker said, on April 6, 2014 at 10:31 am

        Yea….our political system is awkward.

  3. Argyle said, on April 6, 2014 at 11:35 am

    Eliminating the NEH is an excellent idea. The simple truth is that the NEH is a useless and parasitic entity whose programs reach only the teensiest-tiniest segment of the population. I have already contacted my representative to urge the NEH be eliminated. I

    • Michael Lynch said, on April 7, 2014 at 8:22 am

      I’m not sure if you’re just trolling, Argyle, or genuinely expressing an opinion, but here are some figures from the AAM website to consider:

      “Museums employ more than 400,000 Americans.
      Museums directly contribute $21 billion to the U.S. economy each year. They generate billions more through indirect spending by their visitors.
      78% of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural or heritage activities. These travelers—including visitors to museums—spend 63% more on average than other leisure travelers.
      The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has found that arts and cultural production constitute 3.2 percent of the nation’s entire economy, a $504 billion industry.
      The nonprofit arts and culture industry annually generates over $135 billion in economic activity, supports more than 4.1 million full-time jobs and returns over $22 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues.
      Governments that support the arts see an average return on investment of over $7 in taxes for every $1 that the government appropriates.”

      Furthermore, “There are approximately 850 million visits each year to American museums, more than the attendance for all major league sporting events and theme parks combined (483 million in 2011). By 2006, museums already received an additional 524 million online visits a year just from adults, a number that continues to grow.”

      These museums are among the primary beneficiaries of the NEH. Care to qualify your statement a little?

      • Andy Hall said, on April 7, 2014 at 9:20 am

        Argyle is indeed trolling, but thanks for the additional background.

  4. Reed (the original, accept no substitutes) said, on April 6, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    Or as one old “tax & spend” lefty once remarked:

    “The attention and support we give the arts and the humanities–especially as they affect our young people–represent a vital part of our commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Americans. The full richness of this nation’s cultural life need not be the province of relatively few citizens centered in a few cities; on the contrary, the trend toward a wider appreciation of the arts and a greater interest in the humanities should be strongly encouraged, and the diverse culture of every region and community should be explored.

    “America’s cultural life has been developed by private persons of genius and talent and supported by private funds from audiences, generous individuals, corporations and foundations. The Federal government cannot and should not seek to substitute public money for these essential sources of continuing support.

    “However, there is a growing need for Federal stimulus and assistance–growing because of the acute financial crisis in which many of our privately-supported cultural institutions now find themselves, and growing also because of the expanding opportunity that derives from higher educational levels, increased leisure and greater awareness of the cultural life. We are able now to use the nation’s cultural resources in new ways–ways that can enrich the lives of more people in more communities than has ever before been possible.

    “Need and opportunity combine, therefore, to present the Federal government with an obligation to help broaden the base of our cultural legacy–not to make it fit some common denominator of official sanction, but rather to make its diversity and insight more readily accessible to millions of people everywhere.”

    Richard M. Nixon to Congress, 10 December 1969. Read the whole thing here:

    Sheesh! Who knew Nixon would look like a “socialist” one day?

  5. Rob Wick said, on April 7, 2014 at 8:27 am


    I agree with Rob in that this is like those who want to cut PBS, etc. It’s fodder to keep the base happy even though as you rightly point out, it wouldn’t affect spending. I’ve applied twice for an NEH Summer Stipend and both times lost out. Of around 1,000 applicants, only 90 were funded. What irritated me was some of the proposals which were funded. There are few grants in which independent scholars can even apply, and the NEH Summer Stipend is one. Most of those who received the grants were academicians whose projects were, in some cases, bordering on the esoteric. Please understand, I’m not saying they didn’t deserve funding, and a case could be made that my proposals had flaws that made their rejection easier, but if everyone who had applied received the $2,000 grant, it would have cost the federal government all of $2 million. Just think what information might have been brought to a wider audience. Sad.


  6. Cotton Boll Conspiracy said, on April 7, 2014 at 8:49 am

    While I do not favor cutting the NEH or PBS, it is my understanding that a very large percentage of government spending goes to programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which are pretty much seen as untouchable. I agree that eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts or PBS really won’t do much in terms of balancing the budget, but I think we’ve dug ourselves into a fiscal hole. I don’t know what programs could politically be offered up for elimination and still have more than a miniscule impact on the budget. Of course, ranting about the arts isn’t exactly productive, either.

    • jfepperson said, on April 7, 2014 at 11:44 am

      I don’t think Andy wants to turn his fine blog into a free-for-all over modern politics, so I would suggest we all try to avoid getting ugly. (My son would say, “Dad that means you gotta get out of the discussion.”) One program I think should be entirely eliminated (Probability of success = 0.001%) is the tax supports for the petroleum industry.

  7. Argyle said, on April 7, 2014 at 9:41 am

    I am not certain if your are deliberately trolling, but I am more than happy to clarify my commentary. Your own post, clearly and obviously. indicates the worthlessness of the NEH. More specifically, museum that cannot support itself does not deserve to be artificially supported by public funds.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: