What is the meaning of life? The answer is worth $24,953, at least according to the National Endowment for the Humanities, a taxpayer-funded federal agency that is providing an educational grant to study the question.
"What is the good life and how do I live it?" Well, for $25,000 in tax dollars, NEH has tasked someone with finding out.
The NEH and its grant program are the subject of a letter released Thursday by the Senate Finance Committee's top Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, who wants further scrutiny of the program.
Sessions has personally taken a closer look at the NEH grant program and now has "questions" about some of the awards that have been granted, including one for $24,999 to determine, "What is a monster?"
Sessions, in an Oct. 22 letter to NEH acting Chairwoman Carol M. Watson, notes that NEH has a broad mission that includes "protecting cultural, artistic and historical identity of America," but insists that the agency should be giving money only to "top-rated proposals" that would earn the public trust and support in the use of tax dollars.
Here are a few more examples of recent educational program grants:
— Why are we interested in the past? $24,803
— Why are people bad? $23,390
— What is belief? $24,526
— Why do humans write? $24,774
The NEH spends about $150 million annually, though Republicans recently proposed slashing its budget by half.
This latest revelation by Sessions will likely bolster the GOP argument for reducing the NEH budget.
"In the current fiscal environment," Sessions wrote to NEH, "I question the appropriateness of such grants, and believe the public would benefit from a fulsome explanation of the entire review process which solicits education grant input, assesses and prioritizes proposed projects, reviews and recommends projects and awards, and then seeks value for taxpayer monies spent."
Sessions is asking the NEH to answer a long list of detailed questions about the program, including the overall fairness in promoting one culture over another. Sessions wants NEH to show how much money has been spent related to a program called "Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journey."
The NEH has a long history of helping to fund notable cultural projects, including Ken Burns' "The Civil War" documentary for PBS and a number of Pulitzer-Prize winning books.