Isaac at Parabasis has done a nice job converting NEA budgets over the years to 2008 money. While it is tempting to blame the precipitous drop on the Reagan presidency and the ascendancy of the Republican Congress, we might do well to remember (especially in this primary season) that the arts didn't do very well during the Clinton Administration, either. I never noticed a particularly strong commitment to the arts during those years.
I wish the Backstage blogger had this graph before getting all oogly-googly about the NEA budget increase.
I'm all for Isaac's Lifeblood Initiative, and frankly I think there would be interest in it at the NEA as well. There actually are grants for new works at the NEA, although they seem to be tied to the creation individual works and projects rather than providing a salary for individual playwrights.
Meantime, I am trying to develop a business model that treads as lightly as possible in the realm of government and private funding, which might be a nice complement to Isaac's efforts. To simultaneously try to get more money and need it less might be a recipe for real progress...