House votes to defund National Public Radio

March 17, 2011

After a contentious debate and over procedural objections from Democrats, the House voted Thursday to prevent federal funds from going to National Public Radio, the latest move by the Republican majority to target the broadcaster.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), passed the House 228 to192, with one Republican, freshman Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), voting present. All Republicans except for Amash and seven who voted no, supported the measure. And all Democrats present voted against it.

The decision on the bill, which is unlikely to be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate, largely amounts to a messaging vote for House Republicans ahead of a week-long recess. The White House issued a statement Thursday “strongly opposing” the bill but stopping short of a veto threat.

The measure 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 or to pay station dues.

The push to defund NPR follows the departure 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 captured Ron Schiller making controversial remarks about Republicans and tea party members.

In a lengthy statement Thursday night, NPR expressed “grave concern” over the impact the House bill would have on the public radio system if enacted.

“At a time when other news organizations are cutting back and the voices of pundits are drowning out fact-based reporting and thoughtful analysis, NPR and public radio stations are delivering in-depth news and information respectfully and with civility,” said Joyce Slocum, NPR’s interim chief executive. “It would be a tragedy for America to lose this national treasure.”

During Thursday’s floor debate, Democrats argued that the bill would not actually lower the deficit and accused Republicans of taking aim at NPR simply because they disagree with its content.

“This bill does not cut one dollar, one dime, one penny from the federal deficit,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said, adding that if the debate is about whether the American people should be forced to subsidize content they disagree with, federal funding of advertising on Fox News Channel should also be at issue.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said that even if the measure were to pass the Senate and be signed into law, NPR would continue to exist, but “what [the bill] does is harm small, rural stations” that depend on federal funds.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, called the bill a “purely ideological bill so members can go home and brag about what they have done to NPR” during next week’s recess.

Several of the Republicans who spoke in favor of the measure Thursday said that they enjoyed NPR but that it should not be funded with 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. Richard B. Nugent (R-Fla.) argued that those watching the House debate Thursday were probably 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.”

Just before a Thursday morning vote to consider the measure, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) raised a procedural objection to proceeding on the bill, arguing that the quick action on the proposal, which was first posted on the Internet on Tuesday afternoon, violated House Republican leaders’ pledge to post all bills online for 72 hours before bringing them to the floor.

“Did this bill age for 72 hours?” Weiner asked, waving a large blue poster board bearing House Speaker John A. Boehner’s (R-Ohio) statement, “I will not bring a bill to the floor that has not been posted online for 72 hours.”

Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.), who was presiding over the chamber, replied that he would not respond to “hypothetical questions.”

Jo Maney, a spokesman for House Rules Committee Republicans, maintained that consideration of the measure did not violate the three-day rule because it was posted on Day 1, was in the Rules Committee on Day 2 and was on the floor on Day 3, with final passage set to take place 72 hours after the bill was first posted.

Democrats also objected to the bill being fast-tracked to the floor without being thoroughly debated in public committee hearings. The Rules Committee approved the measure Wednesday in an “emergency meeting.”

“The process in this House is awful,” McGovern said. “An emergency! Think it was about jobs? Think it was about health care? No! It was about defunding NPR.”

Republicans defended the process, arguing that the seven-page bill addresses a straightforward question.

“It’s basically a yes or no question,” Maney said. “Do we continue taxpayer funding of NPR or not?”

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