WASHINGTON – Big Bird and National Public Radio won a reprieve Thursday as the House restored $100 million that had been proposed as a budget cut for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The 284-140 vote demonstrated the enduring political strength of public broadcasting, whose supporters rallied behind popular programs such as “Sesame Street,” “Postcards From Buster” and “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.”
The Public Broadcasting Service undertook a high-profile campaign to rescind the proposed cut. Lawmakers were flooded with letters and calls.
The vote came as the House worked on a $142.5 billion spending bill for health, education and labor programs for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.
The Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee had cut $100 million from $400 million in previously enacted support. The committee also eliminated subsidies for educational programs and technological upgrades.
The corporation was set up by Congress in 1967 to shield public broadcasting from political influence. It distributes federal subsidies to PBS, National Public Radio and hundreds of public radio and television stations. The corporation’s chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, a GOP appointee, has made news recently with his contention that public broadcasting is too liberal.
Also Thursday, the corporation’s board selected Patricia S. Harrison, a former Republican Party co-chairman, as president and chief executive.
Republicans who favored the cuts said federal subsidies provide only about 15 percent of the public broadcasting budget. The rest, they said, comes from private and corporate donors, as well as licensing and royalties from programming.
They said the $100 million cut would amount to only about 4 percent of all spending on public broadcasting.
“Big Bird and his friends can fly on their own,” said Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla.