U.S. House: Cut off funding for NPR

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to block federal funding for National Public Radio.

In a 228-192 vote split mostly along party lines, only seven Republican congressmen voted against the measure that would cut off what Rep. Tom Graves, R-Gainesville, called a “sacred cow.”

“With our nation’s debt exceeding $14 trillion, it’s blatantly irresponsible to spend taxpayer dollars on a self sufficient organization like NPR,” Graves said in a statement posted on his website late Thursday afternoon, pointing to the House efforts to trim the deficit.

NPR received almost $5 million in federal funding in fiscal year 2010. In that year, its revenues also included $2.8 million in dues and $63 million in programming fees from local stations, its largest single source of revenue. Under the bill, stations would still be allowed to buy NPR programs using private funds and use federal funds to produce their own programs.

Joyce Slocum, NPR’s interim CEO, said the bill prevents small public stations from accessing “fact-based reporting and thoughtful analysis.”

“It would be a tragedy for America to lose this national treasure,” Slocum said.

But local public radio organizations were stymied by the language of the law that prohibits member stations from using any federal money they receive to pay NPR dues or purchase NPR programming.

“Once the funds come into our operating account, you can’t separate them,” said WABE 90.1 FM chief operating officer John Weatherford, whose station receives $1.4 million — roughly 12 percent of its budget — from federal grants. “We get a substantial amount of programming from NPR. How do I segregate funds, so that if I get any federal funding I can tell somebody I’m not using federal money to pay for NPR?”

Georgia Public Broadcasting is made up of 17 stations across the state and serves a number of rural and underserved communities, spokeswoman Nancy Zintak said.

“I don’t think NPR is going away,” Zintak said. “I’m confident that because of the quality of their programming, I think they will find other sources (of revenue).”

Last week, NPR president and CEO Vivian Schiller resigned after Ron Schiller (no relation), the senior vice president of development, was recorded saying that NPR would be “better off without federal funding,” in a rant about tea party conservatives.

Now, the bill will go to the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“I have no idea how the Senate vote is going to go and what kind of politics are going to come into play,” Zintak said.

Sen. Johnny Isakson’s office said the Georgia Republican would want federal grant recipients like NPR to regularly justify their funding for biennial budgeting.

In an interview broadcast last week on WABE, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., hinted that the public radio organization provided a “very valuable service.”

“The sacrifice is going to have to be shared by NPR as well as others,” Chambliss told WABE’s Denis O’Hayer. “But I think total elimination of funding is probably not the wisest thing to do.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.