As part of their attack on the Democratic-led $835 billion economic stimulus package, some Republicans have attempted to discredit the plan by singling out examples of what they consider the most outrageous spending.
In an interview with Fox News on Jan. 23, 2009, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, the House Republican whip, said that in a meeting with President Obama, Cantor asked if he "could use his influence on this process to try and get the pork barrel spending out of the bill. I mean, there's $300,000 for a sculpture garden in Miami."
But do a word search on "sculpture" in the 647-page stimulus bill now before the House and you'll come up blank. It's not in there.
So we asked Cantor's office where he came up with it.
Here's how spokesman Neil Bradley explained it: The House stimulus bill includes $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. The bill states that the money would be "distributed in direct grants to fund arts projects and activities which preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts sector threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support during the current economic downturn."
It's the lack of detail that particularly bothers Cantor, Bradley said.
"We don't know what they're going to spend it on," Bradley said. "There is no direction to the NEA on how to spend it."
So to give people an idea of how the NEA spends its money, Cantor's staff looked at some recent grants awarded by the NEA.
And in 2008, the NEA gave $300,000 to the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami to restore an outdoor statuary. The Vizcaya estate is one of the country's most intact remaining examples from the American Renaissance, a period when the very wealthy built estates to look European. The $300,000 grant was to help restore some of the outdoor sculptures — statues, urns and fountains — that had been severely deteriorating due to South Florida's salty, damp and subtropical climate, not to mention the hurricanes.
But again, this was an NEA grant from last year . It is not in the proposed $835 billion stimulus package that is being pushed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. In fact, because the sculpture garden's money has already been granted, it's probably safe to say that this is one project that specifically won’t be part of the spending.
We get the Cantor camp's argument that there are no specific projects tied to the funding in the proposed NEA allotment. When all is said and done, there may very well be plenty of NEA projects that some find objectionable or wasteful. This just isn't one of them.
Kirstin Brost, a spokeswoman for Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wis., House Appropriations Committee chairman, defended the proposed funding to the NEA.
"Artists need jobs just like everyone else," Brost said. "Fifty million out of $825 billion doesn't seem like an extreme amount to support our artists."
The bottom line here is that Cantor specifically identified the sculpture garden as part of the stimulus package when it just isn't — which his staff acknowledges. And he has made that false claim repeatedly. He was quoted saying something similar in a Richmond newspaper.
That's not just sculpting the facts. That's Pants on Fire wrong.