Government Spending

U.S. House Pretends to Defund NPR

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Earlier this month the Senate rejected a House plan to zero out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Undeterred, the House has just passed a narrower bill [pdf] that would prevent federal funds from going to National Public Radio and would bar individual stations from using their federal grants to buy NPR programs or pay NPR dues. (The restrictions apply to other public radio networks as well.)

The AP quotes a congresswoman who opposes the idea:

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. said the bill was a "political stunt" that would put "rural communities at a major disadvantage in the information age." In many cases, public stations in rural and minority communities receive a higher percentage of their funds from the CPB.

Slaughter is half right. The bill is a stunt, since chances are negligible that this will pass the Senate. If the Republican Party was serious about getting public radio off the dole, it would have done something when it controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. Instead we had Ken Tomlinson's attempts to remake public broadcasting in the GOP's image. I realize that there are individual Republican reps, especially in the new Tea Party wave, who are serious about ending Washington's support for the CPB. My advice to them is seek out Democrats who'd like to cut those strings for their own reasons—basically, because they're sick of watching public broadcasters trim their sails for fear of what Republican politicians might do—and see if they can work out a left/right approach to cutting the CPB loose.

But Slaughter is wrong to imply that the bill would leave rural stations without government support. They'd just have to use that support to produce their own programs rather than buying shows from public radio networks. Not exactly a "major disadvantage."

A side note: The CPB isn't the only arm of the government that gives money to public broadcasters. There is also, for example, the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program, an operation in the Department of Commerce that funds facilities rather than content; it has done a lot of work on Indian reservations and places like that. Unlike the CPB, the PTFP actually stands a good chance of being eliminated this year. (The Obama administration has called for zeroing it out.) Far be it from me to endorse the program—the best that I can say about it is that it gives outlets one-time grants, as opposed to the CPB approach of locking stations into a dependent relationship with a ton of strings attached. But if you're really interested in defending subsidies to rural broadcasters, this cut should be on your radar screen. Nonetheless, the program's possibly pending death has been almost invisible in the debate. You might almost get the impression that these invocations of rural radio are less about helping broadcasters in outlying communities and more about giving cover to the handouts received by well-heeled NPR.

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  1. If we could just stop Prarie Home Companion, all would be well in the world.

    1. I remember our high school librarian recommended PHC to me back in the eighties. I gave it a try for about fifteen minutes before cutting off the radio and never giving PHC another minute of my life after that. I recall thinking how could that boring shit possibly compete with her dildo for the librarians affections.

    2. I like it. (Not that that means that I think it should get federal funding).

    3. Prarie Home Companion is the worse radio program in the history of the world.

      That said if the federal government stopped funding NPR/CPB Prarie Home Companion would go on as i am sure it is very popular and private funding would keep it going.

      1. Keillor says he’s retiring soon, so the point may be moot. But yes, the show has tons of fans (including me: I like those kinds of music) and it sells plenty of tickets and merchandise, so I’m sure it could survive without subsidies.

        1. Hell they even made a movie with a director convinced he was the reincarnation of Robert Altman. Oh wait, it was Robert Altman. Mr. Altman, I’m very, very disappointed…

  2. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. said the bill was a “political stunt” that would put “rural communities at a major disadvantage in the information age.”

    So very very very hard to care.

    1. Yeah, I really liked that one. Rural communities are by definition at a disadvantage in the “information age”. Otherwise they wouldn’t be rural.

      1. Huh? Rural is defined in terms of access to information?

        1. Rural is defined by access to infrastructure writ large. Infrastructure includes fiberoptic lines, cell phone towers, Cable systems.

          1. You are an idiot.

            Rural is defined by population density. Period.

            1. Oh jesus…

              You do get what the point here is, right? By virtue of low population density, infrastructure lacks because the cost per mile is fucking nigh untenable.

              Yes, population density is (one of) the core component(s) of the definition of Rural, but it results in lack of infrastructure that city slickers take for granted. Therefore it’s going to be hard for Ol’ Jessop to get his regular Farmville Updates on his 4g phone while plowin’ the back forty.

              Therefore Rural communities will always be at an “information age” disadvanteg– at least until we invent some new magical technology which is immune from cost-per-mile limitations.

              1. “Yes, population density is (one of) the core component(s) of the definition of Rural, but it results in lack of infrastructure that city slickers take for granted.”

                THEN FUCKING MOVE INSTEAD OF ROBBING ME TO SUPPORT YOUR LIFESTYLE CHOICES.

                1. I would never live in a Rural area. I likes my high-speed internet and 3G access and digital cable.

                  1. By the way, Pip, I think you’re actually getting it.

                2. That’s a lot of CAPS LOCK, Pip, for someone with whom you’re not actually disagreeing.

            2. Am I rural?

          2. Ever been to the BWCA? It’s a wilderness area and yet I can still use my Blackberry there.

            1. Tell these guys.

              I too can get signal in some wilderness areas, yet sometimes I can’t get it in rural areas. And regardless, I don’t count on it when I go to remote areas which include rural areas.

  3. One wonders (actually, one does not, but let’s just go with it here) if Rep. Slaughter has heard of a technology called “satellites” that can deliver technologies called “direct-broadcast satellite TV” and “satellite radio” to remote areas. And, bizarrely enough, to areas which aren’t even that remote.

    One also wonders if Rep. Slaughter has heard of such technological marvels as skywave propagation of medium-wave amplitude-modulated radio signals, which allow remote areas to listen at night to all sorts of radio stations from all sorts of high-falutin’ city-slicker type places.

    We wonders, yes we do, gollum, gollum.

    1. Hell, plain old dial-up internet provides an order of magnitude more information than PBS has in its entire 50 year existence. Radio and the “information age.” Hah.

      1. Well, it did before every web page had 10 flash ads on it.

        1. This plays right into my post above. That’s why all those rural dialup users are at an “information age disadvantage”.

        2. They don’t have AdBlock in Iowa?

  4. I assure you that virtually no one in a rural community gives a shit about public broadcasting. As long as “momma kin watch her stories” they don’t care.

    The Rousseauian fantasy about the rural poor needs to stop. There’s nothing noble about being too stupid to move to somewhere that has jobs.

    1. And the rural people in this country are about a million times richer than the actual rural poor that exist throughout the world. Going on geology field trips with foreign students establishes that very well.

      1. I can drive you to see tar-paper shacks with satellite dishes in less than an hour.

        1. Stay off my lawn when you do.

          1. You mean the patches of weeds that don’t have a car rusting in them? Deal.

            1. You say potayto, I say potahto.

    2. I assure you that virtually no one in a rural community gives a shit about public broadcasting.

      In fairness to Slaughter, there are some places so remote that a public station is all the radio they’ve got. I’ve been told the NPR affiliate in McGrath, Alaska, is such a station. I’m not convinced that CPB funds are necessary to keep such stations afloat, though they might have to substantially change their structure and schedules to survive without subsidies.

      1. OK. I can see that. I think “remote” might have been a better discription on his part.

        I immediately went to smiling 1930s do-gooders delivering radios on horseback to nowhere Appalachia and then getting distressed when they only used them for baseball scores and not languid afternoons listening to Vivaldi.

      2. It also, hypothetically, would be possible for the more well-heeled NPR stations (and NPR as a corporation) to give the rural and poorer stations a break when it comes to getting access to their content, rather than letting them go off the air. I suppose that’s too radical an effort at redistribution for NPR types, though.

        I’m never particularly impressed by demands by one party that some second party subsidize a third party. It means something, I suppose, but it’s hardly particularly moral, other than posturing.

        It’s like in the NFL negotiations, when the players boldly come out for the NFL providing more money for retired players– while loudly objecting to the idea that any of that money come out of the current players’ share. (The owners do the same hypocrisy in reverse, certainly.)

        1. I’m never particularly impressed by demands by one party that some second party subsidize a third party

          I used to call this “triangulated compassion”.

    3. While I agree with your overall point, living in a rural area doesn’t mean you are too stupid to move where there are jobs. Yes, if you’re an engineer that may be true, but some people actually want to be farmers. I don’t understand the sentiment as I hated every second of it, but that’s what they want to do. You aren’t going to find that in a city.

      1. I respect farmers, but then I would call that a job.

        It’s living in Kentucky that’s made me this way. I get to hear a lot of bitching about “jobs” not coming to the outer counties. As if having a job come to you is a right or something. It’s particularly rich when the people who unionized companies out business complain about coal jobs disappearing.

  5. In case you were wondering, Slaughter represents the rural constituencies of…Niagara Falls and Rochester.

  6. Everyone has their biases, and NPR is certainly no exception. But singling it out from other forms of public broadcasting is really silly. Either kill the CPB or not. NPR is not some kind of nefarious force in the world. It’s run by liberals, but it’s still about the best mainstream news org in the US at this point. Just cut all of the damn government funding. There are plenty of rich benefactors who will step in to fill the gap. And I’ll probably start giving them money again too.

    1. They’re singling it out because attempts to zero out the CPB in general get ridiculous protests by Muppets on Capitol Hill, and are less popular. So this narrower bill is by Jesse’s definition less of a stunt, since it has a slightly larger chance of passing, politically speaking.

  7. Slaughter is half right. The bill is a stunt, since chances are negligible that this will pass the Senate.

    That doesn’t make it a stunt. That makes the Senate wrong.

    1. Yes and no. It does make the Senate wrong, but politics is also the art of the possible. If you don’t push something hard enough when it has a real chance of passing, but make efforts only when you know that one of the other branches will block it, it looks like a stunt.

  8. Fucking ball-less Republicans.

    They need to stand up and say “That’s the last continuing resolution. The House will next take up an emergency appropriations bill that will fund SocSec, Medicare, Defense, Justice, [add core function here] through the end of the fiscal year at current levels. All other departments will have to wait for a real budget. Because we’re bipartisan, and because the FY 2011 budget was theirs to write last year, the Dems can propose their budget first. If they don’t propose one, fine, the rest of the government will stay closed until they do.”

  9. That’s the last continuing resolution. The House will next take up an emergency appropriations bill that will fund SocSec, Medicare, Defense, Justice, [add core function here] through the end of the fiscal year at current levels.

    Given the way the Republicans spent when they were in charge that list of Core Functions would include the rest of the budget plus some new earmarks, methinks.

    1. You’re confusing the New and Improved Dean Republicans (now with Extra Testicles!) with ye olde Republicans.

      By core functions, I mean, you know, core functions. CPB, EPA, Commerce, Education, etc. ad nauseum – not core functions.

      1. You’re confusing the New and Improved Dean Republicans (now with Extra Testicles!) with ye olde Republicans.

        No. No I am not. If you think there is much difference, you are confused.

        By core functions, I mean, you know, core functions. CPB, EPA, Commerce, Education, etc. ad nauseum – not core functions.

        You mean that. They would include all their pet projects as core functions ad nauseum by the time the process was done.

        From what I see in their behavior, the “newbies” are, for the most part, not interesting in getting the fiscal house in order. They are interested in cutting programs that they view as antithetical to their social conservative agenda. Defunding NPR and Planned Parenthood might occur as part of a serious discussion about budget priorities. But when you start there, I just can’t take ya seriously.

        1. If you think there is much difference, you are confused.

          Well, the New and Improved Testicle-Enhanced Republicans are purely mythical, so I think it is you who are confused, sir.

          1. Ah… I stand corrected. These Platonic ideal of Republicans, might use the strategy you suggest…in this world, however, the manifestation would look much like it has historically.

        2. They are interested in cutting programs that they view as antithetical to their social conservative agenda. Defunding NPR and Planned Parenthood might occur as part of a serious discussion about budget priorities. But when you start there, I just can’t take ya seriously.

          And then they’re actually passing every single cut that Democrats propose. Unfortunately, that just isn’t very much.

          There hasn’t been a single spending cut proposed by Democrats or Obama for FY2012 that the Republicans haven’t passed to implement immediately in the CRs for this year. The Republicans are completely leaving it up to the Democrats to decide what programs get cut, while occasionally passing their own bills that they know that the Democrats won’t pass.

          Interesting how you define “social conservative agenda” (like others do “culture war”) as refusing to have government subsidize something.

          I can’t take you seriously, because you’ll always find a way to avoid that “serious discussion about budget priorities.” When it’s across the board cuts, you say that isn’t serious because it doesn’t distinguish between good and bad programs. Whatever.

          1. Interesting how you define “social conservative agenda” (like others do “culture war”) as refusing to have government subsidize something.

            Not “something.” Those things that conflict with a socially conservative agenda. I haven’t seen any indication that these guys want to end subsidies generally.

            I can’t take you seriously, because you’ll always find a way to avoid that “serious discussion about budget priorities.” When it’s across the board cuts, you say that isn’t serious because it doesn’t distinguish between good and bad programs.

            The serious discussion would look like this…we need to cut XXX% out of the budget. Which departments/programs can absorb cuts without losing the ability to meet their mandates? Which services/mandates are not critical? Make those cuts. Are we there yet. No? Okay, let’s prioritize the programs left and do it again.

            The discussion would also include both sides of the balance sheet.

            1. The discussion would also include both sides of the balance sheet.

              Absolutely it should.

              At this point, we would be talking about rearranging the existing tax burden. The feds are already taking in close to the long-run historical average, so talk of massive new revenue streams is fantasy.

              1. It isn’t always about “how much.” Sometimes it is about “how.” Many government programs could move from “tax” supported to “fee supported.” This kind of structural change can be more responsive to changing economic conditions.

  10. If the Republican Party was serious about getting public radio off the dole, it would have done something when it controlled both houses of Congress and the White House

    Give me a fucking break.

    How more serious can you be about something then to do the only thing in your power to do. ie pass a bill in the house that defunds NPR.

    Also the house actions today are in reaction to recent events…those events did not happen when republicans held the house senate and white house.

    Last thing the Republican party of 2005, the Republican Party, and the the Republican controlled house are three different things. Give credit to the things that deserve credit and hand out blame to the things that deserve it.

  11. They’d just have to use that support to produce their own programs rather than buying shows from public radio networks. Not exactly a “major disadvantage.

    I’m skeptical. This requirement to produce all their own programming denies the stations the advantages of the division of labor. This would likely diminish either the quality or quantity of programming a station could broadcast. I would characterize that as a major disadvantage to the stations vs. the status quo.

  12. The bill that would “defund” NPR is misguided, because it only applies to their programming and purchasing of content, but not to administrative costs. This seems completely backward. All of the recent scandals, from the firing of Juan Williams to Ron Schiller’s recent Tea Party rant, exclusively involve NPR administrators. The programming and content are what people are coughing up their hard-earned bucks for (via donations), not so CEO Vivian Schiller can fire her reporters for expressing an opinion.

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