With additional reporting by Ryan Grim.
WASHINGTON -- The Republican campaign to take away all federal funding from National Public Radio (NPR) was over before it began, with GOP lawmakers' procedural trick to force a vote on the issue failing on Thursday. It was the first GOP-ordered House vote since the election.
The proposal to defund NPR was the latest winning item on the Republicans' gimmicky YouCut site, which allows the public to pick the cuts they would like to see receive an up-or-down vote on the House floor. In order to get these votes, they try to make a procedural vote on an unrelated piece of legislation the vote on the YouCut item.
"This week's winning YouCut proposal is sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), and would terminate all taxpayer funding of National Public Radio (NPR), saving taxpayers potentially tens of millions of -- perhaps even over a hundred million -- dollars," read a release from Rep. Eric Cantor's (R-Va.) office. "Implementing this initiative would signal that the days of bailing out irresponsible decision-makers at taxpayers' expense are over.
Democrats easily scuttled the GOP maneuver on Thursday, voting 239-171 to close debate on the underlying measure and move on, without voting on the NPR proposal.
In a speech making the case for taking away NPR's federal funding, House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) stood up for Fox News commentator Juan Williams, who was recently fired by NPR for comments he made about Muslims while on the conservative network, saying, "To be clear, it is not the government's job to tell a news organization how to do its job. But what's equally certain is it should not be the taxpayers' responsibility to fund news organizations with a partisan point of view."
WATCH CANTOR AND REP. VIRGINIA FOXX (R-N.C.):
Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) argued to The Huffington Post that taking away federal funding would save taxpayers money but wouldn't necessarily doom the radio network.
"The head of NPR recently indicated that losing out on the federal money wouldn't be that big a deal," said Hoekstra. "If their president thinks the money doesn't make much difference, we should allocate it to higher priorities."
He added that he talkd to his region's local NPR affiliates, and they said they get about 15 percent of their funding through the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, which is the parent organization of NPR and PBS. Taking away this money would hurt them, but they would survive. Hoekstra noted that NPR isn't his first choice of a radio station anyway; he prefers listening to Fox radio when he can access it.
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said that he really enjoyed NPR's work and would "certainly hate to see that go away."
When the federal debt commission co-chairs put out a proposal to take away federal funding for public broadcasting, NPR put out a statement saying that such a move would have "a profound and detrimental impact on all Americans."
"Federal funding has been a central component of public radio stations' ability to serve audiences across the country," said NPR. "It's imperative for funding to continue to ensure that this essential tool of democracy survives and thrives well into the future."
UPDATE, 2:44 p.m. NPR responds:
Today, good judgment prevailed as Congress rejected a move to assert government control over the content of news.
The proposal to prohibit public radio stations from using CPB grants to purchase NPR programming is an unwarranted attempt to interject federal authority into local station program decision-making. Furthermore, restrictions on the authority of CPB - a Congressionally chartered, independent non-profit organization - to make competitive grants to NPR, or any other public broadcasting entity, is misguided.
For more than forty years, the federal government has provided financial support for public broadcasting - to serve the public interest with essential educational, news and cultural programming that commercial interests neglect.
America's independent, locally governed and managed public radio stations have always had the freedom to make programming decisions based on the needs of their audience and local community. The separation between funding and funders and content decisions is a widely respected, long held and fundamental standard of a free press.
In an increasingly fractious media environment, public radio's value in fostering an informed society has never been more critical. Our growing audience shows that we are meeting that need. It is imperative for federal funding to continue to ensure that this essential tool of democracy remains available to all Americans and thrives well into the future.