Saying that "the CPB still hasn't seen the light," House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) declared yesterday at a Capitol Hill lunch that he would scuttle any legislation that appropriated money for the .
"They still don't realize that the appropriation is gone, that the game is over," he told a group of current and former senior Republican Hill staffers known as the Rams, who meet for monthly off-the-record lunches. "The power of the speaker is the power of recognition, and I will not recognize any proposal that will appropriate money for the CPB. What they should be doing is planning for the future."
The House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the CPB is due to mark up recisions on current funding for the organization next week, and insiders believed the cuts would be in the neighborhood of 15 to 30 percent. CPB funds the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio.
Gingrich's comments were made before an audience of about 100 at the Capitol Hill Club. They were made available to The Washington Post by someone in attendance and confirmed by his spokesman, Tony Blankley.
Gingrich has called for the elimination of CPB funding in the past, but yesterday's statements went further than he had gone before. In fact, less than a month ago he said at a press briefing that his position to zero out all funding was not "fixed in concrete."
CPB President Richard Carlson had no comment, but CPB board Chairman Henry Cauthen said, "It is not a game with us nor with the 1,000 public broadcasting stations that were built with the help of the government for the public. . . . Why the speaker would go against the strongly held views of the American public when 70 to 80 percent want to see public broadcasting continue is a mystery to me."
He said it would be "one of the great tragedies of our time" if the public broadcasting system were dismantled. Gingrich also attacked the CPB board for firing former Republican congressman Vin Weber, a close personal friend of Gingrich whom the board had hired to help develop a contingency business plan for possible privatization.
"The members of the board appointed by the Clinton administration fired him because that's not what they wanted to hear. He wasn't fired because it looked bad to hire a lobbyist," Gingrich said. "He was fired because he strongly advised them to explore their private-sector options."
In recent weeks, some on the Hill have suggested that public broadcasting could be sold to the private sector in some way; Bell Atlantic, for one, has expressed interest in buying what might be available. Public broadcasting executives have expressed concern that the system would be broken up to further the interests of commercial enterprises.
Gingrich fueled that concern yesterday when he said: "They're sitting on very valuable assets. Channel 8 in Atlanta is choice spectrum. Sell that slot to a commercial operation, move PBS to Channel 36, and Georgia public broadcasting could live forever on the interest from that trust fund."
He told the group: "I don't understand why they call it public broadcasting. As far as I am concerned, there's nothing public about it; it's an elitist enterprise. Rush Limbaugh is public broadcasting."