Following a harshly partisan debate, the Republican-controlled U.S. House today approved legislation to block federal funding to National Public Radio.
The resolution, which passed 228-192, would not actually reduce federal spending but would block NPR from receiving federal grants and ban other public radio stations from purchasing NPR programs.
Former Arkansas Sen. David Pryor, a member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's board of directors, said the GOP effort would gravely injure public radio stations, including KUAR in Fayetteville and KUAR in Little Rock, that rely on NPR programming.
"It would be a body blow to National Public Radio," Pryor said during a telephone interview from his home in Fayetteville.
Local public radio stations get about 10 percent of their income from the federal government. Most pay membership fees to NPR and purchase NPR programs like "All Things Considered" to augment local programming.
NPR gets no direct federal funds but does get grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. House Republicans voted last month to cut CPB funding as part of its 2011 budget bill. The Democratic-controlled Senate voted that bill down.
The Senate is likewise not expected to approve today's resolution, which also faces a veto threat from the White House.
Still, House Republicans and Democrats clashed fiercely over the proposal.
Republicans argued that NPR's wealthy listeners should foot the bill for public radio because taxpayers cannot afford it.
"Our country does not have the money to pay for this," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.
Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, who operates radio stations, said public radio should either thrive or die in the free market.
"We have an open market place," Crawford said. "The freedom to succeed also comes with the freedom to fail."
Democrats charged that Republicans were on an ideological crusade to eliminate a news source that they perceive as slanted against conservatives.
"It's not about reforming NPR. It's about punishing NPR," charged Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Ca.
Pryor, a Democratic appointee to the CPB board, said Republicans have had a long-standing vendetta against NPR that has been inflamed recently by the firing of reporter Juan Williams and a hidden camera sting operation that caught former NPR Foundation President Ron Schiller saying NPR would be better off without federal funding.
"It is an ideological thing," Pryor said. "The irony of all of this is that NPR and PBS programs support family values that Republicans espouse and they want to do away with them."
Pryor said the public radio programs generally don't contain profanity or gratuitous violence. Moreover, he said the millions of Americans who tune in to public radio do so because they trust its balanced and thoughtful news coverage.
"There is a thirst for fairness, for objectivity and for getting beyond the 30-second sound bite," he said.
Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., who voted against the resolution, said public radio stations in rural areas that rely on federal funding to stay on the air would be particularly harmed by the Republican effort.
Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Crawford voted in favor of the resolution. The House vote split largely on party lines. No Democrat supported the resolution; seven Republicans opposed it.