Coburn Amendment 309: Devil In The Details
Then one day a memo came down from the main office: There would be a reduction in the shuttle service.
Reduction. How much?, I wondered. 20 percent? 50 percent?
No, the “reduction” was 100 percent.
But saying “reduction” sounds better than “We’re shutting down the shuttle bus, completely, forever, so tough if you don’t like it.”
That’s why you should always carefully read any official document.
On January 28th the U.S. House of Representatives passed their version of the Economic Recovery Package. This included $50 million in supplemental grants funding for the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts).
But something was added to the bill when it went over to the Senate: Coburn Amendment 309. It read in part:
“None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium…”
So let’s say you’re a busy senator – like Chuck Schumer – and you just read that part of the amendment. Sounds OK, doesn’t it? Getting rid of some pork. Why should a private, for-profit casino or golf course or stadium get special funding?
I can understand why Chuck initially signed off on the amendment. Information overload.
But let’s look at the entire amendment:
“None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project.”
Museum? Theater? Art center? What do they have to do with casinos and their ilk?
This amendment cut funding to nonprofit arts organizations, until there was the uproar by the arts community. It was revised to only exclude any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, or swimming pool.
It’s been stated that the senator behind the original arts-cutting amendment, Tom Coburn (R-OK), was trying to keep money from a proposed “mob museum” in Las Vegas dedicated to the history of organized crime. (After all, didn’t O.C. build Las Vegas?)
So why didn’t his amendment just say, “No money for mob museums?” Or was that too direct, unambiguous, like saying shut down instead of “reduction?”