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They Couldn’t Even Defund NPR

In 1995, at the end of the summer after graduating from college, I interviewed for a job on Capitol Hill. At the start of the interview, I asked the freshman member of Congress (a conservative Republican) a silly question: Had he meant, when he’d called for eliminating the NEA, the National Endowment for the Arts, or the National Education Association?

“Both,” he replied.

How quaint and how blissfully optimistic it now seems for a new congressman and a young conservative to believe that it was possible to cut government down to size. How naive for me and so many others to think the Republican Party was sincere in its promise to return to limited government.

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for 2018 was extraordinary, calling for a 31 percent cut to the EPA, a 29 percent cut to the State Department, a 20 percent cut to both the Department of Labor and the Department of Agriculture, and the elimination of funding for scores of things the federal government should never have been funding—many of them things Republicans have been promising to cut for more than 20 years, like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

But Republicans in Congress last week ignored the president, allowing only modest spending cuts to agencies, and, unbelievably, refusing to cut defund the CPB, the NEA, and the NEH. This is infuriating and bewildering for those of us who have listened to Republicans complain about NPR for the last 20 years. The GOP even refused to accept the White House’s assertion that it needed an increase of only $52 billion for the Department of Defense, insisting on giving it many billions more.

You would think the road to ending taxpayer funding of at least the CPB had been paved, what with several top NPR staffers accused of sexual harassment in just the last few months, including the chief news editor, David Sweeney, who was shown the door in November, and Michael Oreskes, the senior vice president of news and editorial director, who was forced out after his long career as a sexual harasser was exposed. And who could forget Charlie Rose, whose young female assistants were summoned to his beach house where he answered the door in a bathrobe?

Then there was the 2011 Project Veritas video that showed NPR’s senior VP for fundraising, Ron Schiller, calling Tea Party conservatives “scary” and “seriously racist,” and telling men affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood that NPR would be “better off in the long run without federal funding.”

But most of all there is the clear, consistent, and truly unbelievable partisan nature of public radio and television. When playwright David Mamet talked a few years ago about wanting to punch the car radio every time NPR was on, half of America knew exactly what he was talking about. It’s almost impossible to listen for any length of time without hearing Christians bashed, gun rights mocked, and conservatives misrepresented.

So why wasn’t it cut?

People in Washington explain to me that the problem is that it takes 60 votes in the Senate to pass appropriations bills. Yes, yes. But Democrats refuse to support them anyway, so why not go for broke? Why not throw down the gauntlet and say, “That’s it, we’re not paying for this anymore no matter how much you yell and scream?”

I called the office of Congressman Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, whose Appropriations subcommittee decided to keep funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and was pawned off on the communications director, who I was told is not available. I left a message, but she didn’t call back. I emailed her, but she did not respond. I called the House Appropriations Committee and got the same treatment.

It has to be said that journalism bears some blame. When was the last time a reporter asked Speaker Paul Ryan at a press conference why he’s going along with a thousand wasteful expenditures? Where was Fox News last summer when the appropriations bills were marked up in committee? Why weren’t they badgering Republican offices to find out why the president’s request for “bold changes” were being ignored?

On the ranking of agencies and programs most reviled by conservatives, just behind the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Trump axed federal funding to both entities in his budget proposal, yet the Republican appropriators completely ignored this and funded them anyway.

Does anyone honestly think there would be less art in America without the NEA? Does anyone think there would be fewer artists? What business does the government have deciding what is art?

The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities were each funded to the tune of about $150 million annually by Republicans in Congress this year. That’s a drop in the bucket for Washington, but I knew an old woman living on the streets in South Florida. When I tried to find a place where she could lay her head at night a couple years ago, I was told repeatedly, including by government agencies, that there was no housing and no money for housing and no money to help find housing. Not one dollar. She’s still out there, I believe, if she hasn’t died from exposure to the elements. So you’ll forgive me if I see government’s spending priorities as a bit skewed.

Trump’s budget had also eliminated funding for the U.S. Institute of Peace, the East-West Center, The Asia Foundation, the Inter-America Foundation, the African Development Foundation, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Green Climate Fund.

In open defiance of the president—and with the country $20 trillion in debt—the Appropriations subcommittee, led by Congressman Hal Rogers, Republican of Kentucky, kept money for most of these, including the U.S. Institute of Peace, a private organization that gets $38 million a year from our government and that was described in a 2012 American Conservative article by J. Arthur Bloom as a “retirement home for aging foreign service officers who want to stay in the game.”

Rogers and his fellow subcommittee members also declined to cut funding for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based group founded after World War II to administer the Marshall Plan. In addition to $70 million in annual fees and membership dues, U.S. taxpayers pay for hundreds of federal employees to fly to Paris twice a year for meetings at the organization’s headquarters in a chateau built by Henri James de Rothschild.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, the head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a wealthy Mexican named Angel Gurria, told Al Jazeera in an interview that he thought Donald Trump was a racist, and his deputy, an American named Doug Frantz, compared Trump’s campaign to the rise of Hitler and Mussolini.

The Republican Study Group, made up of 70 House conservatives, had called for OECD funding to be eliminated. They were ignored.

But it was on defense spending that the Republican Congress fell hardest. Trump’s budget had called for a 4.5 percent increase in defense funding, which amounted to $54 billion more than in 2017. It was the amount the Pentagon said it wanted. But Republicans in Congress insisted it take billions more—about 50 percent more.

If you go back and watch the hearings on the defense budget last year, you see Democrats meekly protesting, pointing out that the president never amended his budget request, and that the long-promised audit of the Pentagon still has not happened, despite the fact that government inspectors find hundreds of millions of dollars unaccounted for in Pentagon budgets whenever they check. You see the acting undersecretary of defense and Pentagon CFO insisting to Congress that $54 billion “is not chump change.”

But Republicans would not be swayed, and last week they got what they wanted: a massive $165 billion hike for the military over two years.

The media claimed that “defense hawks” had won, but that wasn’t really it at all. It was more that Lockheed Martin had won, Raytheon had won, Boeing had won, General Dynamics had won, Northrup Grumman had won, United Technologies had won, BAE Systems had won, and the massive Pentagon bureaucracy had won.

An old friend, a retired senior staffer at the Pentagon, said in an email that she saw so much waste at DOD that it blew her mind. “Do they really need their own mini-State Dept?” she asked. “1500 people in the policy shop!! They travel and write memos…”

What hope has Trump of ever reining it in? What hope is there for conservatism now that it’s given up on the one thing that supposedly held it together?

Margaret Menge has worked as a journalist for the last 14 years, including for the Miami Herald Company, UPI, and LifeZette. She has also been published in the Columbia Journalism Review, New York Observer, Civil War Book Review, and on Breitbart.com. She previously worked in Republican politics.

60 Comments (Open | Close)

60 Comments To "They Couldn’t Even Defund NPR"

#1 Comment By EarlyBird On February 13, 2018 @ 7:58 pm

Ms. Menge, you have some seriously messed up spending priorities, but you do a service with your article in reminding me that most professional Republicans do, too.

Hey: how about not cutting taxes for the rich at a time when our economy does not need the juice? How about cutting the military, and plenty of pork in the budget. The EPA? NPR? No.

#2 Comment By James Sowka On February 13, 2018 @ 8:42 pm

Surprised when Fed gov’t never fails to mishandle ever-increasing Treasury proceeds? Wake up, we are enabling this. We continuously let them pick our pockets to spend/waste on things they have no constitutional authority over. Much of it should be handled by States, as constitution states.

Would rather see much greater percentage of taxation go State/local gov’ts. They are closer, easier to keep an eye on. I’ve even gone to march at my state capitol.

50 different governments; if you don’t agree with yours, can move to another that suits.

Heard the lines “follow the money” and “money is power”? Help figure a way to better direct the (your) money, and the Federal Swamp would be on its knees quickly.

#3 Comment By a spencer On February 13, 2018 @ 8:46 pm

Henry Clemens has addressed this, but to Ms. Menge I would simply add that cutting PBS comes up routinely over decades and seemingly every time Republican lawmakers find out that rural conservatives actually enjoy NOVA, Nature, some Frontlines, programming for their kids, a period costume drama now and then, This Old House, local productions, etc, etc. This support goes above and beyond what they already contribute financially.

#4 Comment By muad’dib On February 13, 2018 @ 8:50 pm

Why he was not laughed out of the room is a question that still occurs to me.

Because the vast majority of Americans have no idea what the Federal Budget looks like. They refuse to understand that the Federal Budget is basically Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid & the Military (65% of discretionary spending – Military 54%, VA 7%, Energy 4%) everything else is basically a rounding error.

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#5 Comment By Mac61 On February 13, 2018 @ 9:30 pm

In a HyperNormal society, we become numb to lies, propaganda, bent truths, post truth.

For a while, there was some concern about the national debt. But now we are numb: $20 trillion, $30 trillion, $50 trillion — what does it matter? As a nation, we no longer care.

No one is serious about it. That ship has sailed.

#6 Comment By DRZ On February 13, 2018 @ 9:54 pm

Late to the party here, but …. Project Veritas? You really want to stake on argument on Priject Veritas?

#7 Comment By EliteCommInc. On February 14, 2018 @ 1:36 pm

“//Many of NPR’s 33.7 million weekly listeners live in rural areas, which trend conservative. (These areas will be most affected by any funding cuts.)”

I have no doubt that many have have replaced their radios more than once. Sure they do. But how many listeners is not really the issue. It’s whether said listeners actually gets the balanced content that public radio is intended to provide. Programs challenging the ad hoc feminist complaints for something valuable provided by traditional relations. Programs that don’t spend their hours crowing about the private exploits of consenting adults as they throw “hissy fits” about that of the current pres. before he was president and before his recent marriage.

I am not sure that russian conspiracies, etc. are all that meaningful to rural community listeners. Here’s a list of this mornings programs:

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Why NPR matters is that they are broadcasters who are supposed to represent an objective view as opposed to partisan agendas. And while they serve as but an exemplar for a host of other organizations, it’s a safe bet that that the agency political affairs office in Africa is not undermining the foundations of US polity and social structure.

#8 Comment By Luther Blisset On February 14, 2018 @ 4:50 pm

NPR is quite balanced, actually. If you are used to listening to Fox News, then you will find it “unbalanced.”

More importantly, the whole deal is just right-leaning virtue signalling. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting entails 0.01 percent of the national budget. How about putting America first and getting our loved ones out of Afghanistan, instead?

#9 Comment By blackhorse On February 16, 2018 @ 8:34 pm

Welcome to the real world. Must be disorienting, after all the kool-ade. Supply side was nothing more than shoveling money upward. The GOP cares not a bit about cost cutting. Indeed, if they can privatize an function and shovel tax payer money to a corprorate concern, they are as happy as pigs in a poke.

#10 Comment By tzx4 On February 18, 2018 @ 9:03 pm

Military spending is ridiculous and in that is siphons away wealth that could improve society, it literally lowers our quality of life.

This . . . .
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. […] Is there no other way the world may live?”