A top House Republican said Friday the party will ask Americans whether to cut off funding for NPR after the radio network fired commentator Juan Williams this week for his comments about Muslims.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said the GOP will add cutting funding for NPR to its “YouCut” program, which asks constituents what federal programs they would want to slash.
Mr. Cantor said NPR’s firing of Mr. Williams, who said in an interview on Fox News this week he feels uncomfortable when he sees someone wearing tradition Muslim religious attire get on an airplane, is “over-reaching political correctness,” and said it is “chipping away at the fundamental American freedoms of speech and expression.”
“NPR’s decision to fire Juan Williams not only undermines that, it shows an ignorance of the fact that radical Islam and the terrorists who murder in its name scare people of all faiths, religions, and beliefs,” Mr. Cantor said.
While in the minority, Republicans’ YouCut program has been mostly advisory. The House GOP caucus has tried to offer the cuts as amendments to bills, but has been shut down procedurally by the Democratic majority.
But if Republicans win control of the House, the program could have real teeth. In their “Pledge to America” campaign agenda, House Republicans said they will hold weekly votes on specific spending cuts, and mentioned YouCut as part of that initiative.
The backlash against NPR has been swift and brutal. Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, said he will introduce legislation to end federal funding for NPR.
And Rep. Joe Barton, ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said if the GOP wins control of the House and he becomes committee chairman, he will call a hearing looking “into this business.”
Mr. Williams, who is also a commentator for Fox News, said on one of that network’s programs earlier this week that he can be unnerved by seeing someone in traditional Muslim dress on an airplane, though he later added that such a reaction did not justify broader discrimination against all Muslims.
“When I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous,” he said.
NPR has defended the dismissal and said Mr. Williams’ comments — even if made on another media outlet — “were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”
Mr. Cantor’s office said they will have to audit NPR to figure out what federal money goes to fund it, but said at the least they will consider cutting any money from the taxpayer-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
NPR says its local stations get about 10 percent of their funding from CPB and another 6 percent from federal, state and local governments and 13.6 percent from universities. The national network says it gets less than 2 percent of its funding from CPB grants.
In the year to Sept. 30, 2009, NPR reported $149 million in revenues and $167 million in expenses.
One of billionaire George Soros’s foundations this week announced it will give $1.8 million to NPR to help local stations hire more reporters.
California Rep. Darrell Issa, ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said that proves the network and its stations no longer need federal help.
“It’s obvious that NPR is now a self-sustaining entity that no longer needs to rely on federal funds,” Mr. Issa said. “As an independent entity, they will be free to serve Mr. Soros’ far left agenda.”