Heated Debate in House Over Bill to Cut NPR Funding

There will be no surprise later today when House Republicans get their way on a resolution to defund National Public Radio. But that doesn’t mean that members on both sides of the aisle in the House couldn’t have a little fun, and get a little heated, during the pre-vote debate.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., made it to the House floor in record time via an emergency vote in the Rules Committee on Wednesday.

Lamborn said Thursday that the bill wouldn’t kill NPR: “They can do it without federal dollars by embracing the private sector. I want NPR to grow on its own. I’d like it to thrive. Just remove taxpayers from the equation.”

In a colorful debate this morning, Democrats took aim at the procedure Republicans used to rush the bill to the floor.

“This is what Republicans think is an emergency—not jobs, not healthcare, but defunding NPR,” said Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass.

Democrats also accused Republicans of opposing funding for NPR for ideological reasons.

“You [Republicans] can’t stand balanced, objective news, so let’s defund it,” said Gerald Connolly, D-Va.

Lamborn countered by arguing that the ideological divide is really over whether the government should have a role in financially supporting media. He said, “In the Constitution, I don’t see anything remotely approaching government having a role in the media.”

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a staunch defender of public broadcasting, provided more drama.
“The Republican legislation attacking National Public Radio would drive Car Talk off the road and would wipe Lake Wobegon right off the map,” he said. “It would close down Marketplace and [tell] Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me to take a hike.”

Republicans pointed out that the bill doesn’t completely defund NPR stations that depend on federal dollars; the stations just wouldn’t be able to use the dollars to acquire programming or pay NPR dues. “We’re giving stations the opportunity to liberate themselves from federal dollars,” said Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Fla. “NPR’s own official said they didn’t need federal funds to continue.”

Only 2 percent of NPR’s revenue comes from federal money. Affiliated stations provide the lion’s share of its revenue, about 40 percent.

Despite the speed with which it’s progressed through the House, the bill is probably dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate where a Republican or two is expected to join the majority and shoot it down.

President Obama is also expected to be ready with his veto pen if it somehow should prove necessary. In a statement released Thursday, the administration said it “strongly opposes” the bill though it didn’t outright promise a veto.

Republicans have been trying for years to cut off federal funding for NPR and public broadcasting. Their first attempt this year was an amendment to a continuing resolution funding the government that would have zeroed out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It died in the Senate.