The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would cut federal funding of National Public Radio (NPR).
HR 1076, which passed 228-192, would also prohibit other public radio stations from using federal funds to acquire content from NPR to broadcast over their own networks. NPR says it earns about 40 percent of its funds through those fees, while the $5 million the network receives in government funds accounts for 2 percent of its revenue.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado) introduced the bill a week after conservative activist James O'Keefe released a videotape of NPR fundraising executive Ron Schiller saying that the station "would be better off in the long run without federal funding." Schiller and NPR CEO Vivian Schiller, who are not related, both resigned after the video's release - though no one at NPR had seen the unedited footage at the time. It was Glenn Beck's web site, The Blaze, that first reported O'Keefe's video was heavily edited, which was the case with his previous videos on ACORN, and prompted NPR to issue a response stating that while Schiller made "egregious statements," O'Keefe "inappropriately edited the videos with an intent to discredit" NPR.
NPR also faced media scrutiny last year for firing commentator Juan Williams after he said that seeing Muslims on planes makes him worried and nervous.
Lamborn, who has long supported ending federal funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), said that Thursday's bill targeting NPR aims to reduce the country's deficit by cutting off "non-essential services."
"I want NPR to grow on its own. I'd like it to thrive. Just remove the taxpayers from the equation," Lamborn said on the House floor Thursday morning. He estimated that cutting government funds for NPR would save $60 million a year.
Many House Republicans agreed that NPR could be self-sustaining. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) said that the majority of NPR listeners are "wealthy" and "well-educated," and said that it is "time for us to remove the federal support system... and see what NPR can do on [its] own."
In a press statement sent out before the vote, the Obama administration said that it "strongly opposes" HR 1076. Reducing funds for public radios to acquire NPR content "would result in communities losing valuable programming, and some stations could be forced to shut down altogether," particularly in rural areas where such networks are scarce.
The statement pointed to President Obama's budget proposal, which already includes reductions in funding for CPB, which grants a small amount to NPR as well. Blocking funds to NPR endangers "more than 700 stations across the country, many of them local stations serving communities that rely on them for access to news and public safety information."
Some House Democrats said they believed the bill was a symbolic gesture rather than an effort to reduce budget deficit. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) called it "an ideological attack on the core of public broadcasting under the guise of trying to slap NPR ... the irony is that this is going to really cripple smaller stations and is not going to affect NPR nearly as much."
Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-New York) and Henry Waxman (D-California) both disagreed with the GOP argument that defunding NPR would save taxpayers' money.
"The CBO [Congressional Budget Office] has scored this bill," Waxman said. "It does not save a penny. This means that this legislation does not serve any fiscal purpose ... This legislation is not about reforming NPR. It is about punishing NPR."
Before the vote, Waxman sent an impact analysis to colleagues showing the bill's potential impact. "[The] legislation did not go through the normal Committee process, there have been no hearings, testimony, or expert review, and members have little information about its impact," Waxman wrote. His district-by-district analysis projects that HR 1076 "would negatively impact 414 stations across the country ... [serving] listening areas in 280 congressional districts in all 50 states."
Likewise, Slaughter said that the bill "has no effect whatsoever on the deficit, and saves no money, not a dime ... This is a purely ideological bill so our members can go home and brag about what they have done to public radio."
The bill will now go to the Senate for a vote, where a majority-Democrat body is unlikely to let it pass.