WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim DeMint said Wednesday that the resignations of National Public Radio's chief executive and a top fundraiser weren't enough as the South Carolina Republican led his party's drive in Congress to defund public broadcasting.
DeMint dismissed as a side issue NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller's resignation over a sting video in which fundraiser Ron Schiller (no relation) derides conservatives, tea party activists and "uneducated Americans" who back them.
"The issue about taxpayers funding public broadcasting isn't about who gets hired or fired," DeMint said. "It's about two simple facts: We can't afford it, and they don't need it."
DeMint said "Sesame Street" and other popular children's programs make tens of millions of dollars from the sale of puppets and other toys depicting Big Bird, Elmo and the Cookie Monster.
DeMint said mainly liberal donors provide huge additional funds to public broadcasting, led by billionaire financier George Soros' $1.8 million gift to NPR last year to hire 100 reporters.
Vivian Schiller resigned earlier Wednesday in the furor over the video made by conservative activist James O'Keefe, who caused a ruckus in 2009 with a sting video that showed ACORN workers giving advice on getting a loan to buy a house to be used as a brothel staffed by illegal immigrants.
Conservatives had been gunning for Vivian Schiller since she fired former NPR commentator Juan Williams in October for having said that seeing travelers in Muslim garb made him nervous.
DeMint and Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, introduced a bill Friday to eliminate all federal funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which distributes the government money to public radio stations across the country.
Those stations, in turn, purchase programming from National Public Radio, which gets 70 percent of its funding from private donations.
"We're facing a $1.5 trillion deficit," DeMint said. "Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on public broadcasting makes no sense today when they are raising millions from private donors and Americans already have thousands of media choices."
The Senate on Wednesday defeated a Republican appropriations bill to fund the government for the rest of fiscal 2011, which contained $61 billion in overall cuts — including $242 million of the $430 million allocated to public broadcasting.
DeMint, of Greenville, caused temporary confusion when he became one of just three GOP senators to vote against the spending measure, which was virtually identical to legislation passed last month by the Republican-controlled House.
DeMint said he voted against the appropriations bill — along with fellow Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, plus all 53 Democratic senators — because its spending cuts weren't deep enough.
"We're spending money we don't have, borrowing more than 40 cents of every dollar we spend," DeMint said. "Sixty-one billion dollars is about what the U.S. borrowed each week in February, and less than 5 percent of our nation's $1.5 trillion annual deficit. Republicans need to fight to balance the budget in five years, and this plan doesn't do that."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Seneca Republican, joined most other GOP senators in voting for the appropriations bill.
In the House's Feb. 19 vote on the same measure, the five GOP lawmakers from South Carolina backed it while the congressional delegation's lone Democrat, Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia, opposed it.
DeMint said that President Barack Obama ignored the recommendation of the bipartisan deficit commission he set up last year in seeking $451 million in federal funds for public broadcasting in the 2011 budget proposal he sent Congress last month.
The deficit commission, which is co-chaired by former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles of Charlotte, N.C., advocated ending all federal funding for public broadcasting in its December report, among other sweeping proposed cuts to balance the federal budget.
The effort by Republican politicians to defund public broadcasters, which many conservatives accuse of liberal bias, goes back decades to the late Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, stretching from President Richard Nixon in the 1970s to President George W. Bush in recent years.
DeMint is attacking public broadcasting on several fronts.
Last week, DeMint sent a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., asking the panel to probe whether, in fighting possible cuts to federal funding, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is violating laws that prohibit nonprofit groups from lobbying Congress or engaging in other overtly political acts.
"The government-funded public airwaves have been filled with pleas for viewers and listeners to contact their elected officials and urge them to oppose cutting funding for public broadcasting," DeMint wrote.
"Can taxpayers be guaranteed that no government funds were used to broadcast these calls to action and lobby Congress for funding?" he asked.