As Budget Debates Begin, Republicans Put NPR, PBS on Chopping Block

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As the House prepares for debate today on the budget, Republicans are trying to cut off public funding for NPR and the Public Broadcasting Service, which run such iconic programs as "Sesame Street" and "Morning Edition."

The House Republicans' budget would rescind any funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- which partially supports these two organizations -- for the remainder of the year, and zero out millions in funds after that.

This is not the first attempt by Congress to cut funding for what many Republicans see as liberal-leaning broadcast operations.

House Republicans made a proposal in November to strip federal funding for NPR after the radio station fired controversial commentator Juan Williams for comments he made about Muslims.

That bill didn't pass, but this time, Republicans are in the majority in the House, and many say the cuts are needed to balance the burgeoning U.S. deficit.

"I think they are dead serious. There's a real concern about budget among lots of people and they're looking for ways to cut," said Christopher Sterling, a professor of media and public affairs and public policy at George Washington University.

If funding indeed gets put on the chopping block, it could have a detrimental impact on PBS and NPR affiliates, many of which are already struggling financially.

"It would diminish stations' ability to bring high-quality local, national and international news to their communities, as well as local arts, music and cultural programming that other media don't present," NPR chief executive and president Vivian Schiller said in a statement. "Rural and economically distressed communities could lose access to this programming altogether if their stations go dark."

PBS president and chief executive Paula Kerger, pointing to the network's educational programming, said, "It's America's children who will feel the greatest loss, especially those who can't attend preschool."

Conservative lawmakers have attempted, for decades, to cut federal funding for public broadcasting, arguing that they have a liberal bias.

One of Newt Gingrich's first acts as speaker of the House in 1995 was to call for the elimination of federal funding for CPB, and for the privatization of public broadcasting. Neither attempt was successful, though it did keep the hot-button issue in the limelight for years.

Kenneth Tomlinson, who served as CPB chairman for two years until he resigned in 2005 because of an internal investigation, vigorously pushed for a more conservative point of view on public stations.

In 2005, a House subcommittee voted to drastically cut CPB funding, and eliminate all of it within two years, a move many blamed on Tomlinson himself.

"Republicans have never been fond of public broadcasting. Republicans have always thought that public broadcasting across the board is liberal, is not particularly supportive of Republican and conservative points of view," Sterling said. "Democrats tend not to think that, unless they're from very conservative districts."

Corporation for Public Broadcasting on the Chopping Block

It's not just Republicans, though, who have singled out CPB when it comes to overall budget cuts. President Obama's bipartisan deficit commission in November also suggested eliminating funding for CPB, estimating that it would save the government $500 million in 2015.

The impact of CPB funding cuts would vary from station to station, since funding sources for each can differ widely.

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