WASHINGTON — The Republican-led House of Representatives voted Thursday to defund National Public Radio, an organization rocked by a series of embarrassments, most recently an undercover video that showed a fundraising executive disparaging conservatives and saying that the network could do without federal subsidies.
The 228-192 vote on the bill, which was brought to the floor on an emergency basis without hearings, was largely along party lines; all but seven Republicans voted "yes," while no Democrat voted for it.
The bill has little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The Republicans argued that the bill was needed to reduce federal spending, but the catalyst was clearly the surreptitious video, made by conservative activists posing as donors, of NPR's then-chief fundraiser running down the GOP and the tea party movement.
The uproar cost Vivian Schiller, NPR president and chief executive, her job, as well as the accelerated departure of the fundraiser, Ron Schiller. (They aren't related.) The network's firing in October of commentator Juan Williams also brought heat from conservatives.
"Let's be honest and talk about what this bill is about," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. "This bill is about making sure that we are spending taxpayer dollars the way that the people that earn them would spend them. We saw ... on video, executives at NPR saying that they don't need taxpayer dollars."
The bill would prohibit federal funding to NPR and prevent NPR's member stations from using federal funds to purchase NPR programming, such as "Morning Edition" or other programs. The 414 affiliated stations get about 10 percent of their funds — $93 million in 2009 funding — through the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Patrick Butler, president of the Public Media Association, which represents public television stations and NPR, was critical of the House vote.
"The only result would be the loss of thousands of jobs in this industry, the closing or severe restriction of hundreds of local stations serving small-town and rural America which depend on federal funds for 30 (percent) to 100 percent of their annual budgets, including program acquisition, and the loss of vital information for millions of Americans," Butler said.
But lawmakers said the savings were necessary and would force NPR stations to develop their own programming.
"The only way to control our federal debt is to refocus our federal spending," said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. "The funding for NPR was a nicety, not a necessity. This vote wasn't about ideology; it was about getting our fiscal house in order."
Democrats ridiculed the effort, which they said did not actually cut any funding, with Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York giving a stem-winding floor speech mocking Republicans for recognizing "the danger" from NPR "Car Talk" hosts — brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi, known as Click and Clack — for their incomprehensible Boston accents.
"I am so relieved that we had this emergency session that we waived the rules of the House that requires 72 hours (notice) so we can get these guys off my radio," said Weiner, standing in front of a picture of the brothers." . . . The last thing we want is informative solutions to how we fix our cars."
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