House vote follows fallout from video

A House committee voted to prohibit any federal dollars from being used to fund NPR, a move that reflected the fallout from last week’s revelation of a “sting video” that led to a management shakeup at the network.

Even though Republican sponsors have targeted public broadcasting dollars as a response to the ballooning federal deficit, the measure that passed in a 6-5 vote by the House Rules Committee doesn’t save any money. It instead prohibits federal entities, like the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, from giving to grants to NPR. Federal money could still flow to member stations, although they could not spend it on purchasing NPR programming.

Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Rules Committee, said the result of the legislation would be that members of Congress “would clearly go on the record on the issue of NPR.” Although he stressed that he supported NPR and praised some of its programming, he said private sources could make up the difference.

NPR has found itself on the defensive since last week when conservative activist James O’Keefe released an undercover video that appeared to show NPR’s fund-raising chief, Ron Schiller, bashing Tea Party members and admitting that the network would be better off without federal funding. But an unedited version of the video showed that Schiller’s comments were more nuanced, even though he stepped down from his job and NPR still found fault with what he said.

The bill, authored by Rep. Doug Lamborn (D-Colo.), is similar to a December effort by House Republicans to strip NPR of funding, in the wake of the outrage over the firing of commentator Juan Williams. But the GOP failed to garner the votes with the then-Democratic majority in the House.

Current bill could go to the House floor today, though it is unlikely to get very far in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

But it is becoming a potent political issue to ignite aspects of each party’s base. NPR has long been a target of conservatives, and Democrats have responded with petitions warning of a GOP “witch hunt” against the network.

Democrats on the Rules Committee pushed back against this effort, calling it an ideological campaign and challenging the bill because it was taken up as an “emergency” and did not have a regular hearing.

Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) said it would have a chilling effect on newsgathering as employees would make decisions fearful of losing government support. He proposed an amendment, ultimately rejected, to restrict federal agencies from spending tax dollars on ads on Fox News and FoxNews.com. “If you insist on going down this road, we should be fair and balanced in the way we do it,” he said.

One Republican, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), also voted against the bill after he said he did not “understand why we are not taking the money and rolling it in to deficit reduction.” House Republicans previously passed a budget bill for the rest of this fiscal year that eliminates all funding for the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, but it was blocked in the Senate.

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