A decade after House Republicans waged a pitched battle to close down the National Endowment for the Arts, a Republican President toasted the tax-funded arts agency on its 40th anniversary with a White House dinner.
"Over the last 40 years, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities have strengthened our democracy by supporting our nation’s ideals, institutions, and emerging talents," President Bush told guests at the White House on the evening of November 10. "The NEA has provided support for music and dance, theater and the arts across our great country."
He went on to heap praise on the agency that fellow Republicans tried to defund after winning majorities in both Houses of Congress in 1994, saying that the NEA "has helped improve public access to education in the arts, offered workshops in writing, and brought artistic masterpieces to under-served communities."
Beginning with Pat Buchanan’s insurgent candidacy against the elder President Bush in the 1992 Republican primaries (in which the columnist-candidate’s vows to close down and "fumigate" the agency helped force the dismissal of then-NEA Chairman John Frohnmayer), NEA abolition has been a staple of GOP campaigns. With most Republican congressional hopefuls campaigning in favor of abolishing the arts agency–which had become controversial following revelations that it had used tax dollars on displays considered pornographic–the GOP captured the House and Senate in 1994 for the first time in forty years. In the next two sessions of Congress, Congress came close to defunding the NEA but it was saved in part because of the efforts of Rep. Ralph Regula (R.-Ohio), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversaw funding for the agency.
Although closing the NEA was included in the national Republican platform in 1996, support for its abolition among Republicans began to decline and the issue has not been mentioned in the two party’s two subsequent manifestos in 2000 and ’04. The President and First Lady Laura Bush have expressed their enthusiasm for the NEA and funding for it has gone up under the 43rd President.
In toasting the NEA and the NEH at the White House event, Bush singled out guest Lynda Johnson Robb, whose father, President Lyndon B. Johnson, "had the wisdom to start both these programs," according to the President.