Seizing on the opportunity presented by NPR’s termination of Juan Williams’ contract, Congressional Republicans have put a high priority on eliminating federal funding for (variously) NPR, public radio stations that are NPR members, or public broadcasting in general.
The GOP leadership did not wait until the new Congress (with a Republican majority in the House) convenes. Instead they sought to amend a bill unrelated to public broadcasting to prohibit Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds from being used by radio stations to pay for NPR programming and other services. It would also have prohibited direct support of NPR by CPB.
Like almost all NPR member stations, KUSP does use CPB support to pay a portion of our NPR programming costs, so the legislation would have directly affected KUSP. [Note: if anyone is interested in the deep accounting mechanics of CPB's grant programs that essentially compel KUSP to use at least some CPB support to pay for our NPR programs, please e-mail me; I fear most blog readers would be bored to tears by this information.]
A procedural vote on the House floor failed today by a vote of 239 to 171 (with 23 members not voting). Here is what I think is significant about this vote: not a single GOP member of the House voted on public radio’s side, so to speak. 3 House Democrats voted with 168 Republicans (John Adler of New Jersey, Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, and Gene Taylor of Mississippi).
This lockstep GOP vote against public radio is unprecedented. Public broadcasting has always enjoyed some degree of bipartisan support in the House and the Senate — this is why the 1995 and 2005 efforts to cut off Federal support did not succeed. There were many Republicans who were prepared to vote in line with their own best judgment, and against the wishes of the party leadership of the time.
Such exercise of independent judgment appears to no longer be possible (as is true with so much in national and state politics nowadays). Given that the Republican Party will hold a sizable majority of House seats beginning in January, I have to conclude that the current economic system by which NPR, public radio, and public broadcasting operate is genuinely at risk.
I’m sure I’ll have more to write about on this topic in the months to come. Meantime, follow this link to see what Republican House Whip Eric Cantor had to say today about NPR. NPR’s own announcement about the House vote is linked here.