Friday, June 17, 2005

House lawmakers voted last night to slash funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting by 25 percent next year, although they agreed earlier in the evening to reverse a panel’s plan to strip the organization of all federal funding by 2008.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would cut funding for the corporation by 25 percent, or $100 million. The CPB is the congressionally chartered organization that channels funding to the Public Broadcasting Service, National Public Radio and individual public radio and TV stations.

The money is used to help underwrite popular children’s programs such as “Sesame Street” and “Arthur,” and it would help public broadcasters prepare for technology upgrades required by the Federal Communications Commission.

The reductions that the committee were considering far exceed the cuts President Bush recommended in the budget he submitted to legislators earlier this year.

Even if the full House approves the committee’s plan to cut the CPB’s budget by 25 percent, the money could be restored by the Senate, which historically has been more protective of federal contributions to public TV and radio.

The funding cut comes amid a new debate over liberal bias in public broadcasting, a charge led by Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, chairman of the corporation’s board of directors.

PBS “is the most valuable resource we have for getting decent, quality programming to children,” said Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, during the Appropriations Committee’s meeting yesterday afternoon.

The committee adopted an amendment from Mr. Obey, the panel’s ranking member, that essentially reversed plans approved last week by its labor, health and human services, education and related agencies subcommittee that would strip the corporation of all federal funding within two years.

Funding for public broadcasting has traditionally been a divisive issue in Congress. Conservatives have argued for years about a liberal bias in public broadcasting programming, although proponents of PBS and NPR cite polls that indicate public broadcasting is one of the government’s most popular programs.

When Republicans attempted to eliminate federal funding to the CPB 10 years ago, Rep. Nita M. Lowey, New York Democrat, brought puppets of “Sesame Street” characters to suggest that the popular PBS children’s program was at stake.

At yesterday’s Appropriations Committee meeting, Ms. Lowey trotted out toy versions of Bert and Ernie again.

“I wake up to NPR … my grandchildren watch ‘Sesame Street.’ I don’t know of any house that doesn’t appreciate the importance of public broadcasting,” she said.

Rep. Ralph Regula, Ohio Republican and chairman of the subcommittee that recommended stripping all federal funding for the corporation, defended the plan.

“As far as your puppets are concerned, they get one half of 1 percent of this money, so they are not in jeopardy. You can relax,” Mr. Regula said.

The CPB’s funding accounts for about 10 percent of PBS’ budget and 1 percent of NPR’s, according to the broadcasters. PBS officials have said the cuts the House lawmakers are considering would threaten educational children’s programs.

Mr. Tomlinson has said public broadcasting needs to be more balanced. The CPB’s inspector general is investigating Mr. Tomlinson’s efforts, which include $15,000 in payments to two Republican lobbyists last year that were not disclosed to the corporation’s board, according to a report in yesterday’s New York Times.

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