Discretionary Spending

Function 500 - Education, Training, Employment, and Social Services

Reduce Federal Funding for the Arts and Humanities

CBO periodically issues a compendium of policy options (called Options for Reducing the Deficit) covering a broad range of issues, as well as separate reports that include options for changing federal tax and spending policies in particular areas. This option appears in one of those publications. The options are derived from many sources and reflect a range of possibilities. For each option, CBO presents an estimate of its effects on the budget but makes no recommendations. Inclusion or exclusion of any particular option does not imply an endorsement or rejection by CBO.

(Billions of dollars) 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2014-2018 2014-2023
Change in Spending                        
  Budget authority 0 -0.4 -0.5 -0.5 -0.6 -0.6 -0.7 -0.7 -0.8 -0.9 -2.0 -5.7
  Outlays 0 -0.3 -0.4 -0.5 -0.6 -0.6 -0.7 -0.7 -0.8 -0.8 -1.8 -5.4

Note: This option would take effect in October 2014.

Federal funding for several arts and humanities programs totaled $1.7 billion in 2013. Recipients of the subsidies include the Smithsonian Institution ($776 million), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ($422 million), the National Endowment for the Humanities ($139 million), the National Endowment for the Arts ($139 million), the National Gallery of Art ($122 million), the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ($48 million), the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts ($35 million), and the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs program ($2 million).

This option would cut federal support for those programs by 25 percent and would not adjust future appropriations for inflation. As a result, federal outlays would be reduced by $5 billion from 2015 through 2023, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

One argument in favor of this option is that such programs may not provide social benefits that equal or exceed their costs and thus should have a lower priority than many other programs. Another argument is that additional funding could be obtained from other sources and that certain practices—such as charging admission at museums—could be more widely used to help mitigate the effects of a reduction in federal funding.

An argument against such a policy change is that a decline in federal support would reduce activities that preserve and advance the nation’s culture and that introduce the arts and humanities to people who might not otherwise have access to them. The effects on the arts and humanities nationwide would depend in large part on the extent to which other sources of funding—state and local governments, individual or corporate donors, and foundations—boosted their contributions. But alternative sources might not fully offset a drop in federal funding; most state and local governments, for example, are facing tight budgetary constraints. Subsidized projects and organizations in rural or low-income areas might find it especially difficult to garner increased private backing or sponsorship.