NPR says it receives little of its $166 million annual budget from the federal government. (Most comes from corporations, foundations and individuals.) "NPR receives less than 2 percent annually, on average, from government grants," NPR president Vivian Schiller said last November. Two percent of $166 million would be a bit more than $3 million.
"I think it's a lot higher than that," says Lamborn, who believes NPR's federal take is in the tens of millions of dollars. "But if we take them at their word and it's only 2 percent, then they really have nothing to fear. Pretty much any institution out there could do a 2 percent cut, if they were forced to, and survive -- even thrive."
NPR has long argued that the real importance of federal support is the money that goes to local stations. Lamborn's bill would not cut off money for the stations -- it would just forbid them from using federal dollars to buy NPR programming.
That has led NPR to accuse Lamborn of interfering with freedom of the press. "The proposal to prohibit public radio stations from using (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) grants to purchase NPR programming interjects federal authority into local station program decision-making," NPR said in a statement this week. "This legislation would ultimately dictate the daily editorial schedules and news programs of nearly one thousand public radio stations across America." (An NPR spokeswoman did not respond to requests for additional comment.)
Lamborn calls the argument "bizarre" and argues that forcing NPR to go without federal money is not meddling with editorial content. "If they're independent, they can do whatever they want," he says.
Can Lamborn succeed? A well-connected House GOP aide says the bill is "not a top priority, like repealing Obamacare," but that its prospects for passage are "pretty good." In the Senate, Democrats would likely filibuster, and one GOP source says it would be "tough to get 60 votes" to overcome Democratic opposition. Still, things could change -- they did after the Williams controversy -- and Lamborn is determined to keep trying for as long as it takes.
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