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Public TV Advocates Prepare for Funding Battle Ahead

President Donald Trump is not the first occupant of the White House to propose the elimination of funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — and yet it still survives. That fact is what is giving advocates some confidence that they will win the new battle over federal support.

Patrick Butler, the president of America’s Public Television Stations, was on Capitol Hill on Thursday and said that lawmakers think that Trump’s budget outline is merely the first step in a long process, and that “now we have to do our job.”

In recent weeks, Butler has been lobbying in anticipation that Trump’s budget would call for eliminating funding for the CPB, which has in recent years received an appropriation of about $445 million, 2/3 of which goes to local TV and radio stations.

Many of the stations, he said, “are battle hardened, and they believe in this cause and are prepared to do whatever they need to do to win it, and I think we will win it.”

President George W. Bush proposed the elimination of funding for CPB during his years in office, but Congress, even during years of Republican majorities, ultimately retained the appropriation and even raised it, Butler notes.

When Mitt Romney ran for president in 2012, he called for the elimination of CPB funding, “and the Twitterverse lit up like crazy.”

Within hours of the unveiling of Trump’s proposed cuts on Thursday, public stations began sending out social media messages and emails, sounding the alarm with the hashtags #SavePBS and #SavetheNEA.

The budget now heads to Congress, where committees will begin to devise appropriations for the 2018 fiscal year. Also under consideration is how to fund the government for the rest of the current year, as a continuing resolution is set to expire in late April.

Over the past few weeks, Butler’s organization has been contacting members of Congress, and “we are finding a growing number of Republicans saying quite forthrightly that they support our work and continued federal funding for public television.”

Butler’s organization has been circulating a letter among lawmakers, urging Congress to retain public TV funding. The first person to sign, he said, was Rep. John J. Butler (R-Tenn.), a conservative.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, defended the budget proposal to reporters on Thursday.

“I put myself in the shoes of that steelworker in Ohio, the coal-mining family in West Virginia, the mother of two in Detroit, and I’m saying, ‘Okay, I have to go ask these folks for money and I have to tell them where I’m going to spend it. Can I really go to those folks, look them in the eye and say, ‘Look, I want to take money from you and I want to give it to the Corporation of Public Broadcasting?’ That is a really hard sell, in fact, some of you don’t think we can defend anymore.”

Patricia Harrison, the longtime president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, framed the issue with the same constituency in mind in an op-ed for The Hill.
“We serve the heartland, from coal miners’ kids in West Virginia who have access to educational programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to seniors who rely on our content throughout the day for news and public affairs, health and safety information,” she wrote.
“America can’t be strong if we aren’t building a strong civil society,” she added.

Butler said that the arguments for cutting CPB funding “isn’t any different and isn’t any stronger, either.”

One argument that has been made in the past is that the funding cuts can be filled by private donations. Yet smaller- and medium-sized stations will find it difficult to make it, Butler said.

“You can’t a have nationwide public broadcasting system if only a few stations on the coasts and big cities are able to fund their operations,” he said.
Past battles over public TV funding have led to Capitol Hill rallies, in which parents were joined by “Sesame Street” characters like Big Bird and Elmo.
It proved so effective in garnering attention that one Republican lawmaker, then Sen. Jim DeMint, even complained about the “Muppet lobby.” DeMint is now president of the Heritage Foundation, one of the chief conservative groups that has long pushed for the elimination of public TV funding.
If it worked back then, will it work now?
Butler doesn’t know yet whether advocates will stage a similar lobbying effort this time around, but he’s already encouraged by the outpouring of support on social media.
(Pictured above: Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting)

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