House Votes To Defund NPR

In what was basically a party-line vote, the House of Representatives voted today to strip federal funding from National Public Radio:

After a contentious debate and over procedural objections from Democrats, the House on Thursday voted to prevent federal funds from going to National Public Radio.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), passed the House on a 228-to-192 vote, with one Republican voting present. All but seven Republicans voted for the measure, and all Democrats present voted against it.

The measure is unlikely to be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate. The White House on Thursday issued a statement “strongly opposing” the bill but stopping short of a veto threat.

The bill would ban any federal money from going to NPR, including funding through competitive grants from federal agencies and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. NPR receives about $5 million annually in such funds. The bill would also prohibit NPR’s roughly 600 member stations from using federal funds to purchase programming from NPR and to pay station dues.

The push to defund NPR follows the departure from the organization of its chief executive, Vivian Schiller, and its top fundraiser, Ron Schiller (no relation), in the wake of a hidden-camera video sting by conservative activists that showed Ron Schiller making controversial remarks about Republicans and tea party members.

Democrats argued that the bill would not actually lower the deficit and charged that Republicans were simply taking aim at NPR because they disagree with its content.

“This bill does not cut one dollar, one dime, one penny from the federal deficit,” McGovern said, adding that if the debate is about whether or not the American people should be forced to subsidize content they disagree with, federal funding of advertising on Fox News Channel should also be up for debate.

(…)

Several of the Republicans who spoke in favor of the measure said they personally enjoyed NPR but did not believe it should be funded through taxpayer dollars.

Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said he appreciated some of NPR’s programming but added that “half the American people have never even heard of, much less even listened to, NPR.”

Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.) argued that those watching the House debate on Thursday were likely watching it on C-SPAN, which doesn’t receive federal funding.

“A lot of us like NPR,” he said, later adding: “We’re not trying to harm NPR. We’re actually trying to liberate them from federal tax dollars.”

Of course, whether one likes or dislikes NPR’s content isn’t really the relevant question here. As I noted in the wake of the whole Juan Williams controversy late last year, the issues surrounding Federal funding of NPR, and other similar entities, is more fundamental than that:

As a matter of principle, there seems to be little justification for continuing government subsidies for media outlets in an era when consumer choices have broadened far beyond the three networks (plus, in some networks one or two local channels) that existed when the CPB was created in 1967. Between cable, satellite, the Internet, and broadcast television itself, the number of consumer choices, and outlets for different voices, is far broader than it was then and, quite honestly, if there’s a type of programming that the market, or private grants, won’t support, then there seems to be little argument for saying that the government needs to step in and subsidize something that people don’t want to listen to.

There’s also the Constitutional issue. Looking at Article I, Section 8, it’s hard to find any grant of power that authorizes Congress to subsidize television and radio networks. While some will no doubt all such an insistence on Constitutional purity silly, it strikes me as an important point. If Congress can’t do it, it can’t do it.

This is, of course, a minor issue in the grand scheme of things. Federal funding for the CPB amounts to a few hundred million dollars out of a budget of trillions of dollars. For fiscal conservatives like me, that amounts to virtually nothing. However., when you’re looking for something to cut, it makes as much sense to look for the small targets as it is the big ones.

So, yes, defund NPR and the CPB. Not because of what happened to Juan Williams, but because the government shouldn’t be funding them in the first place.

NPR may be a good thing, it’s just not something that should be receiving funds from the government.

 

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    I think it says something very bad about our society when we de-fund what is the most non-partisan and fact-based reporting available. Cue the rightmost of our resident wingers, who will name something they hated on NPR, which was nonetheless, factually true.

    This is a vote for siloing and partisan, consensual, reality.

  2. Which provision of the Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution authorizes Congress to spend money to subsidize a public radio network?

  3. TG Chicago says:

    The bill would also prohibit NPR’s roughly 600 member stations from using federal funds to purchase programming from NPR and to pay station dues.

    So if I’m reading this right, it doesn’t cut the funds to the member stations. It just blocks them from using the money towards NPR.

    Yet another thing to remember the next time conservatives carp about their desire for decisions to be made locally rather than federally. It’s not a true principle; it’s just something they say when it suits them but otherwise ignore.

  4. TG Chicago says:

    …McGovern [said] that if the debate is about whether or not the American people should be forced to subsidize content they disagree with, federal funding of advertising on Fox News Channel should also be up for debate.

    Ugh. What a mistake it is for defenders of NPR to rhetorically cast it as the opposite side of the coin from Fox News. Terrible framing politically and, worse, it’s completely inaccurate.

  5. wr says:

    Well, this is going to create a lot of jobs. Almost as much as passing the death penalty for women who have abortions. Jobs, jobs, jobs!

  6. sam says:

    “Which provision of the Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution authorizes Congress to spend money to subsidize a public radio network?”

    The Commerce Clause, natch. See, FCC V. LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS, 468 U. S. 364 (1984):

    Congress, acting pursuant to the Commerce Clause, has power to regulate the use of the broadcast medium. In the exercise of this power, Congress may seek to assure that the public receives through this medium a balanced presentation of information and views on issues of public importance that otherwise might not be addressed if control of the medium were left entirely in the hands of the owners and operators of broadcasting stations.

    On the funding issue, I’d rely on the Necessary and Proper Clause…

  7. David says:

    Just curious, how much money does the Government give to NPR and how much time (otherwise known as money for salaries, etc) did they spend on this?

  8. I have no real beef with either NPR or its content, and ordinarily I wouldn’t even get that worked up about the federal spending on it. We spend money on far sillier things than that.

    But this isn’t ordinary times. Yes, NPR is a small part of the federal budget. Just as the cable bill is a small part of my monthly expenses. But when I got laid off, the very first thing I did was cancel the cable.

    We have a projected $1.5 trillion deficit this year. Why haven’t we cancelled the cable yet?

  9. TG Chicago says:

    Unless you’re very wealthy, the amount you pay per year in cable is a much greater percentage of your income than NPR is of the national budget. (and if you are that wealthy, you probably wouldn’t bother turning off the cable; you’d probably sell a house or something)

    Also, I’m happy to report that America has not been laid off.

  10. America hasn’t been laid off, but the principal is the same: the amount of money coming in is much less than the amount of money going out. And NPR, like cable, is a luxury good. Other than NPR employees, nobody is going to go cold or hungry because they can’t listen to NPR. More than that, the bulk of its audience is upper middle class white people who could easily afford to pay for it themselves (whether in terms of donations, monthly fees, or whatever). Instead its subsidized by the whole nation.

    But the key point above all is that while NPR is nice, it’s unnecessary. When you’re out of money, you cut the unnecessary stuff first, no mater how small a part of your budget it is.

  11. Tlaloc says:

    Between cable, satellite, the Internet, and broadcast television itself, the number of consumer choices, and outlets for different voices, is far broader than it was then…

    …because poor people’s kids don’t deserve educational programming? Given the economy any argument predicated upon the idea that everyone can afford cable tv is at best highly questionable. At worst it’s simply mean spirited.

  12. David says:

    They spend time on this nickle and dime stuff, but when the Sec of Def wants to cut something that the Pentagon doesn’t want, and hasn’t wanted in years, its like pulling teeth.

  13. An Interested Party says:

    When you’re out of money, you cut the unnecessary stuff first, no mater how small a part of your budget it is.

    Or you could find ways to make more money…

  14. Tlaloc says:

    America hasn’t been laid off, but the principal is the same

    No it really isn’t. All the analogies trying to compare the USA to a family or business miss the crucial point that a country that prints its own fiat currency is nothing at all like a family or business. That’s not to say the US can do whatever it wants without consequence but it means it has a whole lot more options in terms of how it deals with debt. Nobody is going to foreclose on us unless we do it ourselves (by choosing to default even though we can easily get people to buy treasuries). The two situations just aren’t even remotely comparable. The US is not going to be evicted, or starve alleyway.

  15. john personna says:

    What is the cost per household for public media?

    “How much does the federal government spend on public broadcasting?

    In 2004, all federal spending for public broadcasting amounted to approximately $500 million. This is about $1.70 per person in the United States. This amount is very small in comparison to what is spent in other countries.”

    http://www.freepress.net/node/37318

    If that’s $1.70 per year, and it looks like it is, it makes the whole thing pretty sad, doesn’t it? Let’s balance the budget by saving each tax payer less than two bucks.

    Gosh, that will add up to a trillion really quick … let’s see $500M per year, in 1000 years we save $500B

    … so it only takes 3000 years to balance the budget.

  16. john personna says:

    BTW Doug, I really don’t care. When something has been a standard for our government since before I was born, I accept it as the world I came into. To say “wait a minute, reality is impossible” seems mad.

  17. wr says:

    Russell Newquist — If we are broke because we’ve been laid off, perhaps the best remedy would not be to save three or four dollars by defunding NPR but by not granting huge tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires.

  18. john personna says:

    Or start cutting with something costing some “Bs” and not mere “Ms.”

  19. TG Chicago says:

    john persona quoted:

    “How much does the federal government spend on public broadcasting?

    In 2004, all federal spending for public broadcasting amounted to approximately $500 million. This is about $1.70 per person in the United States. This amount is very small in comparison to what is spent in other countries.”

    If I understand the bill correctly, even this amount is greatly overstated. It seems that they are only cutting the direct funding to NPR, which is $5 million. So if they’re only cutting $5 million instead of $500 million, then we’re under 2 cents per person.

  20. anjin-san says:

    > Which provision of the Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution authorizes Congress to spend money to subsidize a public radio network?

    Dunno. Where in the Constitution did they authorize Congress to fund sending a man to the moon? Having the founding fathers give the OK to fund any kind of radio network would have been tough as they predated Mr. Marconi by a few years. Mass media at the time the Constitution was written had made little progress since the days of Gutenberg.

    Doug, everyone knows you are a smart guy. But sometimes you are really, really good at hiding it. Well, you can always continue to hide behind “I won’t feed the trolls”.

  21. anjin-san says:

    > But the key point above all is that while NPR is nice, it’s unnecessary

    But billion dollar tax breaks for oil companies are. Really.

  22. EddieInCA says:

    Doug –

    In many rural areas of the country, far, far away from those “liberal elites”, the ONLY radio station available to people is the local NPR station.

    Do you know that NPR has 16 “Farm Bureaus”?

    Why? Because they’re needed, and they do a valuable service to rural locales. Westwood One, Liberty Media, Lincoln Financial, CBS Radio, ABC Radio and the other large radio networks, don’t have Farm Bureaus and don’t service rural areas.

    So, once again, the GOP is going after an essential service which helps a small constituency, which really does NOTHING to help the deficit.

    Assholes.

  23. anjin-san says:

    > which really does NOTHING to help the deficit.

    Yes, but it hurts a robust news outlet which is not owned by Rupert Murdoch. And that may well be what this is really all about.

  24. Ron300 says:

    Don’t you liberals know how to read. The price tag for NPR is $422 million a year. And if you don’t think that is enough money to cut, I agree with you…so as true liberals where would you cut? Nowhere because you need all these give aways so people will vote Democrate, God knows there is no other reason to vote Democrate. Pander pander pander and vote D

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporation_for_Public_Broadcasting#Funding_of_and_by_CPBn .