GOP lawmakers seek to halt $25M Kennedy Center stimulus funding

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) is among those in his party who want to put a stop to the $25 million in stimulus funding that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) insisted on giving the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Republican lawmaker is co-sponsoring a bill introduced by Rep. Bryan Steil (R-WI) to freeze the funding after the Washington, D.C. performing arts venue suspended pay for its artists and furloughed nearly 60% of its full-time workforce, Fox News reported Tuesday. The GOP has pointed to the arts funding as an example of egregious waste pushed by Pelosi during a time of crisis.

“It shows the misplaced priorities of Speaker Pelosi,” Scalise said Monday on Fox News. “While everybody else was working together…Nancy Pelosi literally held up the bill for days to get her pet projects including the money for the Kennedy Center.”

GOP seeks to freeze funding

As Pelosi accused Trump this weekend of “fiddling” while America suffered, Republicans have said that it is Pelosi who took advantage of a national crisis — and held up financial help for Americans — by attempting to stuff last week’s $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill with “pork” that had nothing to do with the pandemic. Pelosi has claimed that her party’s efforts, which stretched across days of marathon talks with the Republicans, resulted in a final deal that did more to help America’s workers.

The Kennedy Center clearly didn’t get the message. Hours after Trump signed the titanic stimulus into law, the venue furloughed its nearly 100-person orchestra, and as of Tuesday, the center said it would add some 60% of its administrative staff to the list of more than 700 part-time workers who have had their pay suspended, Fox reported. Now, Republicans are pushing legislation to take the $25 million back, according to the Washington Examiner.

“This money should be spent fighting the virus or in taxpayers’ pockets!” said Rep. Steil, who thanked Scalise for supporting his bill.

Kennedy Center responds

Secret recordings of a conference call revealed that Kennedy Center executives had discussed the layoffs last week while lobbying Congress for a bailout, according to the New York Post. The Kennedy Center has attempted to defend itself, saying that the institution is strapped for cash and will run out of money even with the $25 million if it does not restructure its spending, according to the Washington Business Journal. A full $20 million of the bailout will go to employee wages and benefits, and the rest will pay for utilities and deep cleaning, according to the organization.

Most of the center’s revenue comes from tickets for performances that will be canceled until at least May 10, its president, Deborah Rutter, said. But Ed Malaga, president of Local 161-710 of the American Federation of Musicians, is calling the lay-offs “illegal.”

“This decision, from an organization with an endowment of nearly $100 million, is not only outrageous – coming after the musicians had expressed their willingness to discuss ways to accommodate the Kennedy Center during this challenging time – it is also blatantly illegal under the parties’ collective bargaining agreement. That agreement specifically requires that the Center provide six weeks’ notice before it can stop paying musicians for economic reasons,” Malaga said, according to The Hill.

Pelosi still playing politics

As it happens, Pelosi wants to go back and revise the $2 trillion bill, too, in what is being described as the fourth phase of coronavirus rescue legislation. The speaker said that she wants to change a part of the bill that classifies Washington as a territory rather than a state, saying it cost the capital critical funding, The Washington Times reported.

She also wants to expand on direct payments to Americans, paid leave, funding for state and local governments, and other items laid out in the first three legislative phases. Pelosi is also looking to repeal the SALT deduction cap that was part of Trump’s 2017 tax reforms, according to The Hill.

Pelosi had originally floated $35 million for the Kennedy Center in a controversial House bill last week, as Congress negotiated the third phase of coronavirus legislation. Trump, for his part, has said that he accepted some funding as a necessary concession to Democrats and indicated that he’s not terribly upset about it.

“That was a Democrat request. That was not my request. But you got to give them something,” Trump stated, according to the Washington Examiner.

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