Would affect more than NPR
House votes to prohibit pubradio stations from spending federal funds on national shows, dues
In a 228-192 vote today, the U.S. House of Representatives sent to the Senate a bill that would forbid stations to use CPB funds to buy national programming from NPR or other sources.
The vote nearly followed party lines: Seven Republicans voted with Democrats opposing the bill, H.R. 1076.
If passed by the Senate, the bill would effectively end CPB support of national radio programming, a major source of seed money for establishing new ongoing programs over the years as well as for maintaining program initiatives that need ongoing CPB support, such as the national Radio Bilingüe and Native Voice One networks and the StoryCorps oral history project.
The bill wouldn't necessarily prevent stations from buying shows from NPR or other distributors. Larger stations would have enough member and sponsor revenue to cover their purchases of national shows, according to public radio's Station Resource Group.
But smaller stations would be in a bind if CPB maintains its rule requiring station grantees to meet the minimum staffing criteria from their nonfederal fundraising. Hiring even the minimum staff eats up much of a small station's local revenue, SRG says. The rule is designed to make the grant eligibility requirement meaningful by preventing a station from using its federal grant to become eligible for the federal grant. Without the rule, "scores" of additional stations would be eligible for CPB grants, SRG says, and that would reduce the grants to stations already eligible.
House supporters of public media noted that NPR was being punished unfairly in the wake of conservative video muckraker James O’Keefe’s recent hidden-camera sting of NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller, which has lately been criticized for misleading editing.
The GOP is “relying on a discredited video that was exposed by [Fox News celebrity] Glenn Beck’s website of all places,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). “Our friends should talk to the thousands of volunteers at home who rely upon public broadcasting resources to provide the content that Americans love. Reject this travesty.”
But Republicans persisted in using the sting video to make their point. “Let’s really be honest and talk about what this bill is really about,” said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) “This is about making sure that we’re spending tax dollars the way the people who earn them would spend. We saw on the video executives at NPR saying they don’t need taxpayer dollars. That’s out there, for all of America to see.”
Station Resource Group told member stations in a message yesterday that it believes the bill, if enacted, would “eviscerate public radio’s capacity to address program innovation, minority programming concerns, and program collaboration among station, producing and distribution organizations.”
“The public radio system will be a significantly weaker service five years from now if H.R. 1076 were to become law — that that will have a negative impact of every public broadcasting organization," SRC said.
The House’s morning discussion leading up to a procedural vote on the bill previewed how the afternoon hourlong debate over the bill would unfold: fiscal conservatism vs. the value of public radio.
Republicans hammered on the $1.6 trillion (and growing) deficit, and the need to eliminate any program that’s not an absolute necessity. Democrats cited an upcoming Office of Management and Budget report they say will reveal that ending federal funding to NPR saves “not one dollar, not one dime, not one penny” from the deficit, as Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), put it.
Democrats contended that the G.O.P. got behind H.R. 1076 to win points with their constituents on the belief that NPR is seen as a liberal mouthpiece.
“This is a political stunt,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.). “This is purely ideological, so members can go home and brag about what they’ve done to National Public Radio.” Republicans including Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.) said a lot of Americans “fundamentally disagree” with having their tax dollars used to support NPR. He quoted Thomas Jefferson: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.”
McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, took a symbolic swipe in response to the anti-NPR moves: He sponsored an unsuccessful amendment that would have banned the spending of federal funds on the "partisan political platform of Fox News." He noted that the Department of Defense spent $6 million on Fox ads in 2007. “If my friends on the other side of the aisle want to strip funding from NPR because they believe — wrongly, in my view — that NPR is biased, then we should be given the same opportunity,” he said.
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