Following a heated and angry debate, the House voted 228 to 192 Thursday to defund NPR. The Republican-backed bill prevents any government funding for NPR dues or national programming.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) who has been trying for the past two Congresses to cut noncom funding. It will now go to the Senate, where its chances are slim to none.
Republicans billed the move as a necessary cut in discretionary spending, but brought up the issue of the recent sting operation in which an NPR fund-raiser exited after being caught on tape disparaging the Tea Party and conservatives and talking about NPR not needing government money.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said Republicans were simply trying to do the responsible thing by getting NPR out of the taxpayers' pockets. She pointed to the generally more affluent audience to suggest that they could make up for the lack of government dollars.
"The only way to control our federal debt is to re-focus our federal spending," said Rep Joe Barton (R-Tex.), former chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. "The funding for NPR was a nicety not a necessity. This vote wasn't about ideology; it was about getting our fiscal house in order."
Democrats took to the floor in droves to decry the move, calling it horrible and crippling. They said it was an attack on Big Bird, that it could hurt the Amber alert system, named after a child who was abducted and killed while riding her bike. They also dissed cable news. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) contrasted the oasis of hard news and "real info" from NPR with the "Edwardian Drama" which he said characterized cable's coverage of events. You don't have to be Dick Tracy to figure out that Republicans have wanted to kill NPR from the outset, he said.
Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) compared the candid and thoughtful public radio to "often ill-informed and sensationalist cable news."
But the harshest criticism arguably came from Democrat Lynn Woolsey, also of California. "If they can't get Bin Laden, they might as well go after Prairie Home Companion.
At a speech to the Media Institute earlier in the day, House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) had said that the reality was cuts needed to be made, and that CPB might wind up being the victim of the latest budgetary bop in a game of fiscal Whack-a-Mole.
But Walden also said that what is happening to public broadcasting was brought about in part by what was happening "with" public broadcasting. He said ever tying was on the table. "When things pop up and have issues associated with them that resonate across the country side, somebody grabs a mallet and whacks a mole, and that's what is happening right now." He also said the bill was an effort to get the government out of the programming business.
He pointed out his state had stopped spending its taxpayer dollars on public broadcasting several years ago. He said he occasionally listened to public broadcasting himself, but that it has come to the point where people are going to have to vote against things they like if the deficit is to be cut.
He also had some advice for noncoms or any other group getting federal funds going forward. "I would advise them to choose their words carefully even though they don't know they are being videotaped" because "everything is a target right now."
The bill has little chance of passing in the Senate, and is opposed by the White House. "The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 1076, which would unacceptably prohibit Federal funding of National Public Radio (NPR) and the use of Federal funds by public radio stations to acquire radio content," the White House said in a statement.
The president has proposed some targeted CPB cuts, and said it was open to others, but the White House said Thursday that "undercutting funding for these radio stations, notably ones in rural areas where such outlets are already scarce, would result in communities losing valuable programming, and some stations could be forced to shut down altogether.