Lamborn seeks to end funding for public broadcasting

Colorado U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn announced Thursday that he had introduced legislation to cut funding for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting after 2012. Lamborn said that times had changed since the government first began funding public broadcasting and that in the age of “500 channels” it is no longer necessary to subsidize access to TV and radio for American citizens.

“The Corporation for Public Broadcasting may produce worthwhile content,” Lamborn said in a release. “That is not the issue. The issue is that we cannot subsidize organizations that can stand on their own two feet in the day of trillion dollar deficits.”

If enacted, Lamborn’s bill would save taxpayers about $450 million each year.

Rocky Mountain PBS said they remain an important part of helping to serve an underserved population.

“We certainly wouldn’t want to see funding cut to public broadcasting,” Pam Osborn, spokesperson for Rocky Mountain PBS told the Colorado Independent. “We think it has enormous value to the country and our communities–especially to underserved audiences.”

The bill, H.R. 5538, has received the backing of three of the nation’s most conservative groups: the National Taxpayer’s Union, the Club for Growth, and Americans for Limited Government.

In 2010, CPB received $420 million from the government and it has requested $608 million for the next funding cycle, which begins in 2013. The nonprofit Corporation for Public Broadcasting is a staple of U.S. media culture, a most highly respected brand in broadcast journalism and a wealth of educational and youth programming. It’s also a rare popular bastion of commercial free programming. It receives roughly 13 percent of its funding from taxpayers.

Lamborn said the $450 million cut his bill would make was one of the kind of “low-hanging fruit” Americans were looking for members of Congress to pluck.

“It may not seem like a lot of money to some people, out of a $13 trillion national debt, but if we don’t take the low-hanging fruit, then where else will we save the money? If we are going to get our deficit under control, we have to make tough choices.”

Lamborn elaborated in a release: “Federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is no longer relevant. The intent of federally funded public broadcasting in the Public Broadcasting Act was to make telecommunications services available to all citizens of the United States. Today, over 99 percent of Americans own a TV and over 95 percent have access to the Internet. Government-funded broadcasting is now completely unnecessary in a world of 500-channel cable TV and cell phone internet access.”

Osborn disagreed. She said PBS serves many individuals who can’t pay $100 a month for cable and pointed out that roughly 18 percent of the population gets television over the free airwaves. And she argued that PBS offered distinct and increasingly valuable programming.

“The balance that you find on public television is really not replicated elsewhere. Most of the cable news you get is unabashedly opinionated and it is our calling to be as un-opinionated as we can be.” She said a recent Rover poll has shown that PBS remains the most trusted broadcaster in the nation among the public.

Lamborn said the cut will not spell the end of PBS and NPR.

“Businesses and non-profits deal with this sort of revenue loss all the time— especially in the midst of this recession.”

Osborn said the cuts would be felt. She said outreach and local productions would suffer and access to PBS would be reduced among viewers. Osborn said the proposal is unexpected given the recession. “Still,” she explained, “I’m one of the people who don’t have cable– 500 channels and nothing on.”

President of Americans for Limited Government Bill Wilson said that “public broadcasting is a total luxury. It is a luxury in the sense that this is not something people can’t get other places. Clearly there isn’t enough of a market for it because if there were, it wouldn’t need government taxpayer money just to pay its salaries and pay its overhead.”

Many are sure to argue against Lamborn’s reasoning on the bill and would point to other varieties of “low hanging fruit” that might be plucked first.

Just a few weeks ago, for example, as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Lamborn voted to preserve a controversial program to develop a second alternative engine for the F-35 fighter jet. The cost of the program was a little more than the cost Lamborn hopes to eliminate with his public broadcasting bill. Estimates put the cost of the second alternative engine at $485 million, according to Reuters. The Department of Defense asked Congress not to fund the program and the Pres. Obama threatened to veto a bill that included what he saw as essentially an earmark to payout Defense contractors. The Pentagon said the program would spend money that could be much better used to buy additional jets. Congress voted against the Pentagon and the President to pay for the engine.

Lamborn was the sole member of the Colorado delegation to vote for the engine. Ex-Marine, Republican and strong defense backer Rep. Mike Coffman joined with Democrats in agreeing with the Pentagon and the President that the engine program amounted top wasteful spending and he voted against keeping the program in the National Defence Authorization Act. 

Lamborn told the Colorado Independent that funding for PBS and for the Jet engine shouldn’t be compared.

“These are two unrelated issues,” Lamborn wrote in an email. “In the era of a 500-channel universe, taxpayer-funded broadcasting is a luxury…

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I support the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter competitive engine program because it preserves our nation’s critical defense capabilities. In the near future, the Joint Strike Fighter will represent 95 percent of our fighter force and, by having an alternative engine, we increase our ability to maintain a qualitative military edge. History proves that competition both brings costs down and leads to higher quality. This means that competition for a second engine will reduce costs in the long term.”

Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney builds the primary engine for the F-35. General Electric and Rolls-Royce are developing the secondary engine at the center of the disputed contract Lamborn supported. 

Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent a letter in May to Congress outlining his opposition to the Rolls Royce engine in which he called it “an unaffordable luxury” and recommended Obama veto the defense bill if it included funding for the “unneeded extra JSF engine.” 

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