Bill to Defund NPR Passes House Vote

White House needs to come out stronger

It’s been a busy twenty-four hours on the “defund NPR” beat. Yesterday, the House Rules Committee convened an emergency hearing to send a bill to the floor that would stop federal funding from supporting NPR programming, as well as that of its local affiliates.

Anticipating today’s vote, the White House released a statement this morning strongly opposing passage of the bill. From the statement (via Talking Points Memo):

As part of the President’s commitment to cut spending, the President’s Budget proposed targeted reductions in funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which provides a small amount of funding for NPR, and the Administration has expressed openness to other spending reductions that are reasonable. However, CPB serves an important public purpose in supporting public radio, television, and related online and mobile services. 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. 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.

Despite that, the bill—introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn—passed this afternoon with 228 to 192 votes. Now it will move to the Senate, where a Democratic majority has most assuming it won’t land on the president’s desk any time soon.

And yet while we’re happy to see the White House come out in support of NPR and the CPB, the wording might have been stronger. And by stronger, we mean a veto threat.

This bill, as TPM reporter Benjy Sarlin reminds us, is not about reducing the deficit, but is about directly attacking NPR programming. Sarlin writes: “The bill would not reduce the deficit as the funds could be used for administrative costs by local stations instead and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but the White House warns that small rural stations could shut down without federal funding to purchase content.” Read the bill for yourself.

The bill is about scoring points against a right-wing target whose content seems to strike few but Washington’s culture warriors as particularly egregious. And those warriors, tiny cameras and edit suites in hand, can’t even point to NPR’s supposedly biased content to make their case. Instead, they rely on the cheapest tricks of so-called “journalism” to expose the leanings of those behind the scenes—folks who have nothing to do with the content the bill addresses.

As the White House rightly warns, the stakes are very high for rural broadcasters in this debate, many of them needing federal dollars to buy content enough to fill their airwaves. And standing by the principals involved—our core belief in a strong public broadcaster that should be left un-harassed if it’s doing its job—is important. Even if HR 1076 goes nowhere, a strong statement against its intent is needed.

Many have described NPR’s board as weak in its response to the O’Keefe sting—as Jay Rosen said, “They brought a tote bag to a knife fight.” The White House’s statement this morning was something more than a tote bag; maybe a sturdy kind of throw pillow. That won’t do. The president needs to tell Congress that this bill, which makes no dent in the deficit and exists simply to score political points, will not get his signature.

This is going to be a tough and drawn-out fight. If the opposition brings knives, we should fight back with (metaphorical) second amendment force.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , ,