Thursday, March 17, 2011

House votes to strip funding for NPR

By Stephen Dinan

The Republican-dominated House on Thursday voted to block taxpayer funding for National Public Radio programming, dealing another blow to the broadcasting network that already is reeling from a yearlong series of missteps.

Though the bill is not likely to pass the Senate and the White House issued a statement opposing the bill, it marks another black eye for NPR, which saw its chief executive officer and its top fundraising executive resign earlier this month after being filmed denigrating conservatives and the tea party.

“We’ve see NPR and its programming often veer far from what Americans would like to see as far as the expenditure of their taxpayer dollars,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican. “Nobody is on a rampage; nobody is trying to say that we don’t like NPR for NPR’s sake. We’ve seen how they spend their money. It’s time to prioritize.”

House lawmakers voted 228-192 to defund NPR, with all Democrats and a handful of Republicans voting against the measure.

The bill prohibits public radio stations from using federal funds to buy programming from NPR, prohibits them from paying dues to NPR and cuts off millions of dollars NPR receives directly from federal grants.

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The White House said President Obama is open to some trims from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides some money to NPR. But the White House said it wants to protect individual stations around the country that run NPR programming.

“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,” the White House said in a statement of policy.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Ohio Democrat and a defender of NPR, said that in the United States the broadcast airwaves actually are held by the public and space is divvied up by the government, which issues broadcast licenses.

“Theoretically, it’s all public radio,” he said.

Republican leaders brought the bill to the floor without hearings and without allowing the usual 72 hours the new GOP majority had promised all bills would have to be read and digested by members of Congress — breaking a promise they made in last year’s Pledge to America.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, New York Democrat, skewered the GOP, holding up a poster that read “Save Click and Clack” — the two men who host the network’s popular “Car Talk” show — and sarcastically praising Republicans for tackling the country’s “big” issues.

“Crisis averted, ladies and gentlemen. What a relief,” he said. “We finally found out our problem. We discovered a problem we can all agree on. It’s these guys.”

But Republicans said they aren’t trying to take NPR off the air, just prohibit taxpayer money from going to fund the network at a time when federal deficits are hitting unprecedented levels.

Earlier this year the House voted to cut all funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of a bill to fund the government for the rest of 2011. The House and Senate still haven’t agreed on a final spending bill.

Democrats said Republicans’ are trying to “punish” NPR for what they see as liberal bias at the network, and one Democrat said “silencing” NPR amounted to a threat to democracy.

NPR affiliates have used air time to beg listeners to call members of Congress to express their opinion on NPR funding.

The Washington Times reported earlier this month that some of those stations’ pleas could violate federal laws prohibiting nonprofit corporations and recipients of government money from lobbying.

NPR’s case was not helped on Capitol Hill when a conservative activist posing as a radical Islamic sympathizer taped a then-NPR executive criticizing tea party supporters and saying NPR would be better off in the long run without federal funding.