NPR funding survives lame duck session


A push to defund National Public Radio by House Republicans failed, allowing executives of the embattled network to rest easy through the holidays. But the respite may be short-lived, as Republicans call for a GAO investigation into the firing of commentator Juan Williams, not to mention that they will be taking over the chamber in January 2011.

Republicans used an unrelated procedural vote to test a defunding proposal, and it went down in a 231-179 vote.

Eric Cantor (R-VA) said the vote shows that despite getting whipped in the midterms, the vote shows that Democrats still don’t get it, and suggested that such a bill will do much better next year under Republican rule.

According to an NPR statement, the Republican bill would not just attack NPR directly, it would also prevent member stations from using CPB grant money to acquire NPR programming, which it called an “…unwarranted attempt to interject federal authority into local station program decision-making.”

NPR said, “America’s independent, locally governed and managed public radio stations have always had the freedom to make programming decisions based on the needs of their audience and local community. The separation between funding and funders and content decisions is a widely respected, long held and fundamental standard of a free press. In an increasingly fractious media environment, public radio’s value in fostering an informed society has never been more critical. Our growing audience shows that we are meeting that need. It is imperative for federal funding to continue to ensure that this essential tool of democracy remains available to all Americans and thrives well into the future.”

Following the failure of the vote, Joe Barton (R-TX) and Michael Burgess (R-TX) called for an investigation into how NPR uses its federal money, to be conducted by the Government Accounting Office. One question they are said to have is whether or not federal money was used as NPR dealt with the Williams situation.

RBR-TVBR observation: The battle to defund public broadcasting is hardly a new one – it was simply reinvigorated due to the Williams incident. But the noncoms are very hard to do away with – attempts during the Bush administration, with Republicans in full control of Congress, also failed.

Even if the next House goes after noncoms, the arcane rules of the Senate allow a resolute minority hold up legislation, sometimes a resolute minority of one – and attacks on CPB and PBS invariably lead to Hill appearances by lovable Sesame Street characters that often help whip up enough public sentiment to keep the noncoms around.

NPR does not have the Sesame Street advantage, so it may be possible to separate it from the noncom herd and pick it off. But since it involves so many local moving parts, it may be more difficult than it appears.

We’ll see if this stays hot enough to come up again next year. We suspect that it will.