WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives takes up legislation today that would strip more than a fourth of federal dollars from public broadcasting – an effort that Republican backers are calling fiscal prudence but which Democrats say is heavy-handed politics.

The measure would:

• Cut $100 million out of the proposed $400 million public broadcasting budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

• Eliminate the $23 million “Ready to Learn” partnership with the Education Department that helps fund programs like “Sesame Street.”

• Eliminate a $79 million program for technology upgrades.

Across the country, public broadcast stations are lobbying hard, airing announcements that urge listeners to contact their congressional representatives.

The liberal group www.MoveOn.org has flooded Congress with over 1 million signatures on petitions demanding full funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the independent agency that distributes federal funds to the Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio.

The corporation chair, Kenneth Tomlinson, is himself under fire, with 16 Democratic senators, among them Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., calling this week for his resignation.

Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, chairs the House Appropriations Committee, which approved the funding cuts last week. He says the cuts are driven not by fiscal necessity and not by politics. Democrats insist that the GOP’s real agenda is to undermine public broadcasting, a longtime target of Republicans from Ronald Reagan to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.

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“During tight budget times such as these, tough decisions had to be made,” said Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., in a statement issued by his office. “While we are working to adequately fund programs such as Pell grants, K-12 education and medical research – initiatives that are of vital importance to families across Missouri – it is clear that the federal government has funding priorities that are more urgent than public broadcasting.”

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Critics of the move, among them public-broadcasting executives, allege motivations more partisan.

At one of the Capitol Hill news conferences this week, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., accused Republicans of trying to make public broadcasting into a propaganda arm of the party. He stood beside a poster depicting “Sesame Street” characters on the run before a herd of stampeding elephants.

Another rally against the budget cuts featured popular public-television figures like Clifford the Big Red Dog and signs like “Don’t Hurt Bert,” referring to a much-loved character on “Sesame Street.”

Public-broadcasting proponents cite polls showing broad support. A Roper Public Opinion Poll earlier this year showed PBS ranking ahead of seven other institutions, among them courts of law, in terms of public trust. More than three-fourths of those surveyed said the loss of their local PBS station would affect their quality of life.

Not everyone agrees.

Many public broadcasting programs have an “absolutely unabashed partisan nature,” said Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo.

“There’s no shortage of broadcasting in our world today,” he added. “People are bombarded with information. So just as, at one time, it made sense for the federal government to deliver the mail, we have to ask ourselves: In our day, is it really necessary for the federal government to be fulfilling this function?”

The funding debate is playing out against a fierce side-battle over Tomlinson, the combative chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Earlier this year Tomlinson instituted a “liberal bias” review of PBS shows like “Now With Bill Moyers.” Tomlinson accused Moyers, who resigned from the show last December, of not meeting the corporation’s “fairness and balance” standards.

PBS defenders say its programming is balanced overall, and that similar questions were never raised over past programs hosted by well-known conservatives, such as William F. Buckley, Jr.

In April, Tomlinson forced the resignation of the corporation president, Kathleen Cox, and recommended that she be replaced by Patricia Harrison, a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee. Tomlinson is now under investigation by the corporation’s inspector general on allegations, which he denies, of working in concert with the Bush White House.

Tomlinson was appointed to the board by former President Bill Clinton in 2000. In 2003, President George W. Bush named him chair. At the board’s quarterly meeting Tuesday, it took no action on Cox’s replacement but said it would lobby Congress to restore the threatened funds.

Reps. David Obey, D-Wis., Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and Jim Leach, R-Iowa plan to introduce a floor amendment that would restore $100 million of the funding, making up the difference with cuts in administrative overhead elsewhere.



(c) 2005, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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AP-NY-06-22-05 2044EDT


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