Republicans in the House of Representatives will force a floor vote Thursday to defund NPR, a move they have been promising since the public broadcaster fired Juan Williams last month.
House Republican Whip Eric Cantor and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) made it clear in a statement Wednesday that their call to stop federal funding of NPR was tied to the firing of Juan Williams, who lost his job after telling a Fox News panel that he felt "nervous" and "worried" when he saw Muslims at airports.
"When NPR executives made the decision to unfairly terminate Juan Williams and to then disparage him afterwards, the bias of their organization was exposed," Cantor and Lamborn said in the statement. "Make no mistake, it is not the role of government to tell news organizations how to operate. What is avoidable, however, is providing taxpayer funds to news organizations that promote a partisan point of view."
Tomorrow's vote will not decide whether NPR will be defunded; it will only decide whether the House will take up the matter.
Cantor and Lamborn pointed out that NPR was voted the number-one target for defunding at YouCut, a Republican Web site that allows visitors to vote on which federal programs they would like to see eliminated.
Many Republicans have long opposed public funding for NPR and TV broadcaster PBS. Rep. Lamborn, for instance, introduced a bill last June that would have eliminated NPR's funding, long before the Williams controversy erupted. But Williams' firing last month brought new energy into the movement. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), introduced a bill last month in the Senate to defund NPR. The bill is unlikely to pass.
Keach Hagey at Politico notes that Republicans have long opposed federal funding for NPR, but have never had much luck in ending it.
"If history is any guide, the calls to strip NPR's federal funding that have emerged from the offices of Republican lawmakers and leaders face an uphill battle. They've tried this before, several times, and it's never worked," he writes.
Defunding NPR would be problematic because the public broadcaster gets federal money in a number of different ways, and very little of it comes in the form of direct financing from the government. Washington Post blogger Melissa Bell reports:
NPR has said that less than 2 percent of its annual income comes directly from federal sources, through grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for Arts.
The majority of the company's income comes from local radio stations paying programming fees. So the local public radio in, say, Austin, Texas purchases "All Things Considered" and pays NPR a fee for that show. Many of the local public radio stations receive more funding from government programs than NPR does, though they vary per station.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is the largest funder for public radio stations and gets about $400 million a year from the government. About $90 million goes to radio stations.
NPR has not been silent on the controversy. The broadcaster said in a statement last week that defunding its activities would amount to an attack on an "essential tool of democracy."
Responding to a proposal from President Obama's debt commission that Washington stop funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- through which NPR receives part of its public funds -- NPR declared that "federal funding has been a central component of public radio stations’ ability to serve audiences across the country. ... It’s imperative for funding to continue to ensure that this essential tool of democracy survives and thrives well into the future.
"The [debt] commission’s proposal to eliminate federal funding for public media would have a profound and detrimental impact on all Americans," the broadcaster added.