Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado has attempted to ax National Public Radio out of the federal budget for years. The third-term Republican first proposed such a measure in 2007 as a conservative freshman in the Pelosi chamber. It went nowhere. Since then, he has battled on, working the cloakroom and speaking out on the House floor.
This afternoon, Lamborn saw his cause take a significant step forward: The House voted to dry up a gusher of federal dollars that has long been directed toward NPR programming.
For Lamborn, victory is sweet. “It has not sunk in yet, I’m still pinching myself,” he says as we chat in his Capitol Hill office. NPR’s recent stumbles, he acknowledges, coupled with a feisty GOP majority, enabled the bill to pass: “You have to be out in the vineyards working away. Sometimes your efforts are recognized, sometimes you toil in obscurity.”
Lamborn’s legislation unexpectedly caught fire last week after filmmaker James O’Keefe taped Ron Schiller, an NPR fundraising executive, claiming that the radio organization would be “better off in the long run without federal funding.” Schiller also made derogatory comments about the Tea Party movement and Republicans.
Vivian Schiller, NPR’s chief executive, resigned in the aftermath. (The two Schillers are not related.) Lamborn began to move quickly toward a floor vote, hoping to borrow the heat of the exposé for his legislation. He huddled with House leaders and reached out to freshman members.
“Tactically speaking, I knew that it would be a useful thing, because [the comments] were very offensive,” he observes. “Some people are more likely to vote against something if they are offended. I’ll take their votes, whatever their reason.”
Lamborn points out that the O’Keefe sting is but one example of how the tie between the federal government and NPR has become unseemly. The firing of journalist Juan Williams last October, for saying that he became “nervous” when sharing a flight with Muslims, was seen as move to enforce liberal orthodoxy. Weeks after Williams was ousted, Lamborn, along with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, proposed a bill to gut NPR funds during the lame-duck Congress. It failed.
But that vote, Lamborn says, was crucial in building momentum for his current effort. With Republicans already on the record about NPR, bringing up a bill this week was not the usual start-from-scratch legislative chore. He had laid the groundwork.
House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor were eager to join the fight. In recent weeks, both have championed spending cuts. H.R. 1, the House GOP’s lead spending bill, zeros out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the prime backer of public television. Turning toward NPR was a natural policy maneuver.
Cantor says Lamborn’s bill is important because it stops taxpayer dollars from being used to “espouse positions that may not be reflective of the majority of the people.” In rocky economic times, he says, people are much more aware of how the federal government needs to focus on “priorities.” Besides, he says, “NPR’s own folks say they don’t need taxpayer funding, so this should not be controversial.”
Cantor adds that Schiller’s comments were “unacceptable,” so moving Lamborn’s bill to the floor was appropriate. “It was a confluence of events,” he says. “But it certainly meets the test, in terms of what we are looking for, about what we should be spending taxpayer dollars on and what we should not.”