Budget battles: Big Bird under attack

Budget held hostage: Day 155 - Big Bird under attackSen. Jim DeMint wants to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting: Big Bird, he says, "doesn't need the taxpayers." By Charles Riley, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Friday was the 155th day the federal government has operated without a budget, and some lawmakers spent it arguing over nickels and dimes.

Republican Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma introduced a bill Friday that would save a little more than $400 million a year by stripping all federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. (Budget Held Hostage: Day 154)

That's $400 million with an "m," not a "b" -- and it pales in comparison to the roughly $3.5 trillion the government will spend this year.

Still, the senators framed the issue as a fiscal plus.

"Our nation is on the edge of bankruptcy and Congress must make some tough choices to rein in spending, but ending taxpayer subsidies of public broadcasting should be an easy decision," DeMint said in a statement.

Indeed, every little bit counts. But a squabble over funding for NPR and PBS does nothing to advance the discussion over the prime issue in the next two weeks: How to avoid a government shutdown.

Lawmakers' deadline is March 18, when the latest short-term spending bill -- the fifth this year -- expires. That's the game of chicken the government has been playing since the fiscal year started on Oct. 1.

On Friday, President Obama sent his top lieutenants to Capitol Hill to start negotiations with Republicans on a compromise bill. It would appear that little progress was made.

The White House put an additional $6.5 billion in cuts on the table, but Republicans are hoping to cut ten times that, and have already passed a bill in the House that would do just that.

The bill is called H.R. 1, and it would also strip funds for public broadcasting.

Democrats in the Senate, as well as President Obama, have declared that bill a non-starter. They object not only to the total amount of spending cuts, but the ideological bent of some items.

As if to prove their point, DeMint railed against NPR and PBS for accepting donations from liberal organizations like MoveOn.org and a group backed by liberal financier George Soros in an op-ed published Friday in the Wall Street Journal.

"Highly successful, brand-name public programs like Sesame Street make millions on their own," DeMint said, citing sales from toys and consumer products. "With earnings like that, Big Bird doesn't need the taxpayers to help him compete against the Nickelodeon cable channel's Dora the Explorer."

A spokeswoman for Sesame Workshop, which produces "Sesame Street," would not comment on the proposal, but the company's website says that 93% of production costs for the show are covered by licensing activities or corporate sponsorships.

The bill introduced Friday by Coburn and DeMint might be the start of an effort to isolate some of those controversial political issues and jump them onto another legislative track.

But regardless of the legislative vehicle, stripping public broadcasting of funds will be met with a fierce outcry from supporters of NPR and PBS.

There is already a small army of lobbyists on Capitol Hill lobbying in defense of the funding, which the organizations insist provide a crucial boost to their budgets.

A vast majority of federal funds directed to CPB trickle down to local stations, and if those funding levels are cut, supporters of public broadcasting say, many stations, especially in rural areas, would be significantly impacted.

And that, after years of fighting over the issue, seems to be where the two sides part.

"The federal government has no business picking winners and losers in today's highly competitive media environment. NPR and CPB will do just fine without largesse from Washington," Coburn said in a statement.  To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,919.59 80.85 0.48%
Nasdaq 4,527.51 19.20 0.43%
S&P 500 1,981.60 9.86 0.50%
Treasuries 2.41 0.02 0.75%
Data as of 7:36am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Apple Inc 100.53 1.37 1.38%
Bank of America Corp... 15.45 0.00 0.00%
Intel Corp 34.34 -0.07 -0.20%
Microsoft Corp 45.33 0.50 1.12%
Facebook Inc 75.29 0.70 0.94%
Data as of Aug 19

Sections

Beer sales in Russia are losing their fizz as the economy grinds to a halt, hurting Western brewers such as Carlsberg. More

Small business owners say the economy is still their biggest challenge, which keeps them from expanding and hiring, according to a CNNMoney-Manta survey. More

Small business owners say the economy is still their biggest challenge, which keeps them from expanding and hiring, according to a CNNMoney-Manta survey. More

When hairdresser Mark Bustos isn't cutting the hair of fashion designers and real estate moguls, he's traveling around the world giving free haircuts to the homeless. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.