CPB, NEA Survive Trump Budget Axe

It looks as though noncommercial media and arts funding will survive yet another Republican attempt to slash their funding—this one from the White House.

That is according to the just-released omnibus 2017 appropriations bill, hammered out by both Republicans and Democrats, that would keep the government open and funded through September 2017.

Republicans in Congress have historically targeted noncoms for funding cuts over what they see as a liberal bias, but it was Republicans along with Democrats on the Hill who preserved the funding against attacks from the Administration, which had wanted to axe so called "soft power" programs like CPB and NEA to make room for boosting the budgets of "hard power" departments like Defense and Homeland Security.

While the appropriations bill—which is expected to be voted on this week and signed by the President to prevent a government shutdown—would provide more funding for defense and border security, which President Donald Trump has been seeking, it would not zero out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or the National Endowment for the Arts, cuts the President had wanted. In fact, NEA is getting a bit of a bump up.

CPB allocates the government portion of noncom funding, most of which funding does not come from the government but from other sources including grants and viewers.

CPB gets level funding in the bill at $445 million, though none of it can be used for "receptions, parties, or similar forms of entertainment for Government officials or employees."

Noncoms will also get $50 million to help continue to upgrade/replace their interconnection system.

CPB did not look to be in big trouble after the Republican chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Tom Cole (R-Okla.), provided a ringing endorsement of the service in a hearing on CPB's budget.

"If you look over a 50-year [CPB] history it is a pretty impressive record of enriching the content of public dialog, opening doors to communities that don't often have these kind of opportunities and living within what is by what is by any measure at the federal level a comparatively modest budget, which you manage to leverage and multiply many times over," he said to CPB president Patricia Harrison, a notable Republican. It didn't hurt that Harrison is former co-chairman of the Republican National Committee and Cole its former chief of staff during her tenure there

And instead of being zeroed out, NEA and National Endowment for the Humanities funding will actually be increased—to $150 million each from about $148 million each in 2016. Preserving that funding was a big issue for arts network Ovation. Ovation VP of network strategy Liz Janneman had called it one of the best investments government makes.

NEA is the independent government agency established in 1965 to partner with federal, state and local agencies and funding sources to support arts learning and equal access to the arts, according to NEA, which has awarded more than $5 billion over that time.

In 2015, for example—the year of its most recent annual report—it partnered with Playbill and Disney to create a Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for high school students, sponsored poetry reading competitions, and funded fellowships in writing and translation. Its total budget was a little less than $150 million, about one-sixteenth of one stealth bomber.

NEA sponsored 30,000 concerts, readings, and performances; more than 5,000 exhibitions (attended by 33 million); and supported performances on broadcasting and cable to at least 360 million more.

NEA has helped create art therapy for injured servicemen and even partnered with the White House for its 2014 holiday tour.

CPB had no comment at presstime, likely waiting until the vote was in the books before celebrating.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.