Fresh off a new round of righteous indignation sparked by a hidden-camera sting, Republicans voted Thursday to block NPR from receiving any federal grants. The measure passed the House 228 to 192.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., introduced a resolution prohibiting NPR from receiving federal funds, either directly, or from member stations. Lamborn, who proposed a similar bill last year, insists his proposal isn't meant to cripple the organization, but simply save taxpayer money.
“This is not about the ideology of NPR executives or the quality of the content NPR produces,” he said. “The real issue is the proper role of government.”
During the passionate debate, which was sometimes punctuated by “boos,” Republicans characterized the resolution as a budget-cutting measure while Democrats said the effort was a blatantly partisan attack on a popular and important news and information service.
"Public radio is an institution that allows democracy to thrive," said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.
NPR says 2 percent of its funding comes from competitive grants from federal agencies, like the Commerce and Education departments. But the bill would also bar member stations from using federal funds to pay for NPR content. Those member contributions make up about 40 percent of NPR’s revenue.
Critics said the bill would unfairly impact local stations while cutting access to national programming, without saving any taxpayer money. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., sarcastically accused the GOP of targeting popular radio programs such as Car Talk.
“I am glad my Republicans friends are finally getting to the bottom of this,” he said facetiously.
Conservative activists released a video earlier this month that showed NPR fundraising executive Ronald Schiller telling people posing as Muslim philanthropists that Tea Party supporters are "seriously racist, racist people." In the video, later shown to have been heavily edited, Schiller also said he thinks NPR does not need federal funding, contradicting assertions by other executives.
Schiller was already on his way to a new job with the Aspen Institute, a position he turned down after the video became public. NPR CEO Vivian Schiller resigned a day later.
Despite Lamborn’s assertion that his effort was not motivated by politics, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said NPR’s programming had “veered far” from what Americans want with a history, in his view, of one-sided coverage.
“Why should taxpayer dollars be used to advocate for one ideology?” he said.
Republicans concerns over NPR reached a new high late last year when the organization fired commentator Juan Williams for comments he made on a Fox News show. On Tuesday the House voted to cut $50 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps support NPR, as well as PBS.
A GOP effort to cut off federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and NPR is unlikely to advance past the House as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., publicly opposed to bill Thursday.
"I listen to NPR every day,” Reid said in a statement issued Thursday to National Journal. “Public radio and the top-notch journalists it employs are valuable resources to people of all ages across the country and I can't understand why Republicans would want to take that away from them."
Also on Thursday the White House came out strongly against defunding NPR or the CPB, calling the measures unacceptable. The statement suggests the bill would draw a veto, though it stops short of an explicit veto threat.
“The vast majority of CPB’s funding for public radio goes to 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,” said the Statement of Administration Policy. “Undercutting funding for these radio stations, notably ones in rural areas where such outlets are already scarce, would result in communities losing valuable programming, and some stations could be forced to shut down altogether.”
Democrats also complained that the resolution violated the House’s pledge to provide 72 hours for consideration of a bill.