MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Republicans on Capitol Hill have called for sharp cuts in spending to reduce the deficit. Among them is legislation to eliminate all federal funding for public radio and public television. The House voted along party-lines to do just that earlier this winter. But the Senate is controlled by Democrats who are protective of public broadcasting.
As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, public radio and public television officials are taking nothing for granted.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: This year, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will get $430 million, and it'll get a bit more next. Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn is the author of the bill saying, no more.
Representative DOUG LAMBORN (Republican, Colorado): We live in a day of 150 cable channels; 99 percent of Americans own a TV; we get Internet on our cell phones. We are in a day and age when we no longer need to subsidize broadcasting.
FOLKENFLIK: Lamborn is from Colorado Springs. He's the kind of fiscal conservative who sleeps in his congressional office to save money. And he's also proposed a bill preventing NPR member stations from paying for any NPR programs with federal dollars. Lamborn says there's no political agenda.
Rep. LAMBORN: There's a lot of, you know, classical music, talk shows, and this show right here - your dialogue and mine - there's a lot of good programming. And I'm confident that as an ongoing concern, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and all of the local affiliates around the country will be successful.
FOLKENFLIK: In the scheme of things, it's a small amount of money, but Lamborn says the American taxpayer shouldn't pay for any of it at a time of deficits exceeding a trillion dollars a year. I asked him why public broadcasting drew his attention.
Rep. LAMBORN: I don't know the answer to that. It just seemed like an area of our fiscal budget that was self-contained, easy to understand. We can look at it in isolation and decide: Has the time come for it to stand on its own two feet?
FOLKENFLIK: Easy to understand, perhaps, but it's a complicated system. The CPB is a not-for-profit corporation that directs federal dollars to PBS and NPR member stations. NPR receives a few million dollars directly in federal funds and gets a bit more from the fees stations pay to air such programs as MORNING EDITION and ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
Delaney Utterbach is general manager of Lamborn's home station KRCC in Colorado Springs. Utterbach says he relies on that money to help pay for coverage in Denver and throughout the state.
Mr. DELANEY UTTERBACH (General Manager, KRCC): We're one of the last people to have a full-time person at the Capitol. And it's vital for, you know, our listeners and the community to know what our government is doing.
FOLKENFLIK: Federal funds provide about 10 percent of KRCC's $1.4 million annual budget, but many small stations rely on federal dollars far more heavily, especially rural ones. Stations also receive financial support from individual listeners, corporate underwriters and philanthropies. But Utterbach says he can't cut more without damaging the service KRCC provides.
Mr. UTTERBACH: We're sort of running on a bare-bones level as it is. I think that there would be widespread sympathy throughout the community were this to pass through, but it doesn't make it, from a business end, a very viable way to approach fundraising.
FOLKENFLIK: Lamborn first proposed the elimination of funding last June, when Democrats controlled the House. But that was before NPR fired Juan Williams for remarks on the Fox News channel. He said he feared airline passengers in Muslim garb. Conservatives attacked NPR, accusing it of political correctness, and that gave Lamborn's cause a jolt.
In that climate, public media executives have created a campaign called 170 Million Americans For Public Broadcasting. That's how many Americans their researchers say rely on public media outlets at least once a month.
Mr. PAT BUTLER (Association of Public Television Stations): If you take away the federal funding, many of these smaller stations just would not be able to survive.
FOLKENFLIK: Pat Butler is head of the Association of Public Television Stations and is leading the unified lobbying effort of public media outfits.
Mr. BUTLER: Cutting us a thousand times is not going to have any material effect on the federal budget deficit, and yet it's going to have a devastating effect on the system we've built over 40 years.
FOLKENFLIK: Back in 1995, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich led efforts to cut federal funding for public broadcasting, but it backfired in the face of a huge outcry. This time around, with larger deficits, conservatives see a new opening.
David Folkenflik, NPR News.
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