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Why Cutting Public Funding for PBS Harms Poor Americans More than Rich

02.12.11

In an effort to cut our national deficit, House Republicans are introducing legislation to cut even more spending, this time focusing on totally ending funding for NPR and PBS.

Just for those keeping track at home, our national deficit this year is roughly $1.17 trillion. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s budget is $420 million, making it roughly .036 percent of this year’s shortfall.

Here’s the thing: we need to fix our budget. But it’s beyond insulting to give the top two percent of earners a massive tax cut that costs taxpayers $68 billion for the estate tax cut alone. Throw in another $81.5 billion for the tax cuts to families making over $250,000 and we’re looking at $149.5 billion in spending (which is one percent of the debt — or 356 times as much as what we spend on the CPB) that only benefits a tiny fraction of the population while wanting to slash funding for the programs that go to the middle- and lower-classes who make up an overwhelming majority of the population.

There are a number of reasons why the GOP is embarking on a witch hunt for NPR and PBS, one of which is that they’re making it all about ideology to rile their base, not because they’re being fiscally austere. Only someone who had no clue about budgets and numbers in general – or blinded by rhetoric – would miss the absurdity of adding $149.5 billion to the deficit at the same time as fighting to cut $420 million all while claiming to be budget hawks. It’s like taking out a massive loan on a brand-new home in Malibu and then putting your foot down on selling your 10-year-old Dodge Caravan to cut down on spending.

Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Jim DeMint both argued for cutting CPB because since our government is broke, we cannot afford to be spending money on left-wing programs that Americans don’t agree with. Surely some feel that way. But what’s so left-wing about Sesame Street? Or NOVA? Remember Wild America and Reading Rainbow? Unless learning about science, nature, and reading is left-wing all of a sudden, it’s just more of the same ideological fantasy world where Glenn Beck is a moderate and anyone else to the left of Beck is considered a radical leftist — a stance that has even extended to other popular conservative pundits. It feels like just political battle against Democrats but the only losers will be us Americans who actually value public broadcasting – regardless of our politics.

For those who defend the Republican Party vehemently against those who think that the GOP is the party for the rich, it’s hard to feel otherwise when conservative congresspeople stand firm on tax cuts for the rich while also arguing that we can do without funding for PBS. Perhaps they’ve forgotten since they’re making well over $100,000 a year as civil servants that for poorer families who have to cut costs to stay solvent in this economy don’t always have access to the plethora of channels available via cable television.

Not to say that people with cable don’t watch PBS or listen to NPR even if they have Sirius, but I remember growing up as a kid, we didn’t have enough money to splurge on cable when we already had standard TV via an antenna on the top of our house. And since my parents didn’t want us only watching crap, we watched a lot of PBS: Reading Rainbow and Square One TV were after-school mainstays for years.

We can’t just keep cutting everything that keeps a support net for underprivileged Americans while avoiding the big issues that were the true culprits in this financial fiasco. You might disagree with me on the worth of taxpayer money funding NPR and PBS, but no one can argue that their budget is a key component to our ballooning deficit. It’s barely a drop in the bucket. A fraction of a percentage of our overall debt.

Cutting this spending will not right our ship, will not come close to balancing our budget. If the rich can get massive tax breaks, the rest of us should at the very least get to keep our free TV that offers more substance than Charlie Sheen making light of alcoholism, promiscuity, and a total lack of commitment nightly in half-hour chunks.

6 comments

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ryan Mason, Crystal Ashley. Crystal Ashley said: RT @masonry: Why Cutting Public Funding for PBS Harms Poor Americans More than Rich http://ow.ly/3ViAt #pbs #npr #cpb […]


  2. You forgot to mention that the democratic party had control of both houses (and therefore the purse strings) since 2006 and spent and additional 5 trillion. So it’s a little incredulous that you poo poo the Republican party’s efforts to “make a start” at getting the ship back in some sort of order. I am sick and tired of the argument that this cut or that cut is only .03% of the total budget. If you extrapolate that argument then nothing ever gets cut. Which I think is why we are in such a deep hole now. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been using that chestnut for years.

    It’s also bothersome to hear you critize the right when we all know that the 3 entitlements are the “elephant in the room.” For the first 2 years of his presidency, instead of tackling unemployment head on, Obama spent all that time to do what? Introducing another entitlement!!!!! Which will add massively to the our long term debt.

    The so called rich in this country already pay most of the tax bill, while the bottom 50% don’t pay anything. This country does not have a taxing shortfall it has a spending (like drunken sailor type) problem.

    As for cutting the funding to NPR ET AL, there should be no government funding of any kind of media period. The government has no place funding private enterprise. That’s why Fannie and Freddie should be abolished, it’s a mix that only leads to disaster. It is mind boggling to me that we allow our politicians to get away with this stuff despite overwhelming evidence that they can’t manage a piss up in a brewery!

    That’s why the less power congress has the better off this country will be. Get off the partisan kick and start demanding better from all of them.


    • I’ve criticized both sides for their transgressions; this post was just focusing on the decision to cut the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which was introduced by the Republicans. And were their reasoning based simply on fiscal austerity, at least then I could disagree with them on a mathematical angle, but when two top Republicans voice their reasoning to cut it because Americans don’t want liberal radio programming, it just comes across as a juvenile, ideological dig, not a reasoned method to cut spending. Neither said that their reasoning for the cuts were due to their belief that government has no business in the media. Right now media and business and government are all so ridiculously intertwined even in the private sector that to use that as the argument for the cut would just be lip service.

      It’s true, though, that neither side has the balls to be the party that reforms the major spending of social security, Medicare/Medicaid, and defense. It will most likely be political suicide and the element of self-preservation in the short term has all politicians pulling at straws – hence Obama cutting subsidizes for heating the poor and the GOP going after the CPB, neither cuts of which will balance our budget.

      I disagree with you completely with your argument that if we don’t cut things that are .03% of the budget that nothing will get cut. You said it yourself: the three elephants in the room are the issue. It’s not like the CPB’s budget or subsidies for the poor were what ballooned our deficit into the monstrosity it is today. My issue with any politician’s ideas for cuts right now is that they’re not going after items that helped get us into the mess. Medicare Plan D, the Bush and Congress’s tax cuts (which were extended by Obama and this Congress), and two unfunded wars in the Middle East cost fortunes. Cutting the measly budget of the CPB will not fix this nor come anywhere close to fixing this. And until either party goes after those giant spending programs in the budget, all those tiny little pieces will be conveniently partisan-based and do nothing to make our country more fiscally solvent.


  3. You forgot to mention that those that manage PBS stations are the wealthy. Usually making two times what managers of local commercial stations make. Sesame street and other children’s programming will not die, just go to other cable stations for production. Frankly with the president’s new ‘broadband’ initiative, they could operate solely online with the $ from their donors.

    I’ve worked in the industry for 20 years, and I think it’s sad that my tax dollars go to directly funding my competition. It will not completely right the budgetary ship but it’s a good start and cutting CPB is better than cutting programs that really help Americans in poverty.


    • I don’t know the salary structure for PBS employees, so I can’t speak to that. Regardless, to be upset that tax dollars are going to directly fund competition is to be upset at any government employee. Is that same argument viable for saying that we should cut funding to the USPS since that’s providing money to the competitors of FedEx and UPS? I suppose if you don’t believe that the government should provide any services that can be found on the private market; I don’t tend to agree with that.

      And until either party focuses on Medicare, Medicaid, and the defense budget, the cuts to government spending will not be a good start since our fiscal problems don’t stem from a ballooning CPB budget. A good start would be discussing where to reform the big three entitlements. CPB is barely a blip on the radar.


  4. […] The radio stations I work for now receive some federal funding via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and the immediate elimination of that funding would certainly have devastating effects. But there are public radio and TV stations around the country, especially in rural areas, that depend on that funding even more than the ones I work for. Today’s vote in the House, if also approved next in the Senate, will change the public media landscape forever in the US and create entire populations without access to the information these media services provide. Ryan Mason talks about this in his article, “Why Cutting Public Funding for PBS Harms Poor Americans More Than Rich“. […]



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