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H.R. 68: Defund National Endowment for the Humanities Act of 2019

Should the government continue funding the $152.8 million agency?

Context

The National Endowment for the Humanities, often known as the NEH, is a government-funded program to support humanities and educational programs and projects. Their budget was $152.8 million last year.

President Trump’s most recent budget proposal advocates slashing their budget to $42 million, or about a two-thirds reduction. However, some believe the cuts should go even further — to zero.

What the bill does

The Defund National Endowment for the Humanities Act [H.R. 68] would do exactly what its name implies.

The defunding would take place beginning in the fiscal year following the bill’s potential passage. So if it were to hypothetically pass tomorrow, the funding would cease on October 1.

The bill was introduced on January 3 by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ5).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the NEH is a boondoggle for American taxpayers, a frivolous use of spending when there are more pressing priorities.

“While each of these projects, and the many others funded by NEH, may be worthwhile in their own right, it is unjustifiable that taxpayers are on the hook for them,” Rep. Biggs wrote on his website. “Instead, the great thinkers behind these projects should judge the demand for them and seek private funding from those wishing to see their creation. To restore fiscal discipline, we should only use taxpayers’ dollars for federal government responsibilities as outlined in the Constitution.”

What opponents say

Not surprisingly, among the biggest advocates of the NEH is the NEH.

“Since its establishment in 1965, NEH has provided leadership by supporting projects and programs in all areas of the humanities — history, philosophy, literature and languages, archaeology, political theory, comparative religion, and other related subject areas — and helped to make humanities knowledge and learning widely available in the United States,” the Endowment wrote in their 2019 budget request to Congress.

“Each year, humanities projects supported by NEH fulfill the agency’s mandate by providing training for thousands of school, college, and university teachers; reaching tens of millions of Americans with high quality television and radio documentaries, museum exhibitions, and reading and discussion programs in museums and libraries across the nation; and by supporting, in partnership with the Library of Congress, efforts in every state to digitize and make accessible hundreds of thousands of pages of historic U.S. newspapers.”

Odds of passage

Surprisingly, while the NEH may seem like a prime example of a government agency that Republicans would seemingly oppose, the bill has not yet attracted any House cosponsors. It awaits a potential vote in the House Education and Labor Committee.

previous version introduced in 2018 by Rep. Biggs also attracted no cosponsors and never received a committee vote.

The funding level is most likely to remain about even. Since Democrats lost complete federal government control earlier this decade, inflation-adjusted agency funding has fluctuated within a fairly narrow $10 million range, from $149 million to $159 million.

However, that’s about -69% behind the 1972 funding peak, which was an inflation-adjusted $502.3 million.

Last updated Jan 18, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 3, 2019.


Defund National Endowment for the Humanities Act of 2019

This bill prohibits the use of any funds that are made available to the National Endowment for the Humanities of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities to carry out the functions, programs, and activities of such endowment.