The House’s vote to strip NPR of all federal funding is unlikely to get very far in the Senate, but the move sends a warning that the future government outlay for public broadcasting could be greatly reduced.
The NPR defunding bill, authored by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), passed in a 228-192 vote, with seven Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.
The Obama administration condemned the bill but also expressed openness to “reasonable” reductions in spending. The bill doesn’t save money to pay down the deficit but merely restricts where it can be spent, yet funding of public broadcasting is still on the table. Last month, the House voted to eliminate all funding for the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, the government entity that distributes grants to stations, NPR and PBS, but that effort stalled in the Senate as lawmakers attempt to come to terms with a budget bill for the rest of the year.
To an extent, the NPR bill has become a symbolic vote for both sides, even in raising money for the 2012 elections. Conservative supporters were anxious to bring it to a vote to show how far they are willing to go in cutting spending, while Democrats characterized the effort as an example of ideological overreach.
“The time has come for us to claw back this money,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said from the floor of the House during a tense hourlong debate. “The time has come for us to send a message.”
Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), however, called it an “ideological purge” that is “under the guise of dealing with the deficit.”Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) was downright mocking in his defense of NPR, chiding Republicans for taking on the bill as an emergency measure and, in a bit of sarcasm, he invoked the two stars of NPR’s “Car Talk.” “I’m glad the Republican party finally said enough of Click and Clack the Tappet brothers. That clearly was what the American people said in Campaign 2010,” he said.
The drive to defund NPR gained some momentum following the release last week of a “sting” video made by a conservative activist in which the network’s fund-raising chief was heard bashing the Tea Party and said that NPR “would be better off without federal funding.”
Conservatives have long questioned whether the network should receive federal support, noting that the gap in government grants could be made up by the private sector.
After the vote, Patricia Harrison, CEO of the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, noted NPR’s coverage of the uprisings in Libya and the earthquake in Japan and said, “Rather than penalize public broadcasting, the debate should focus on strengthening and supporting this most valuable asset.”