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House votes to halt funds for NPR; Senate unlikely to concur

The Republican-led House voted Thursday to defund National Public Radio, an organization rocked by a series of embarrassments, most recently an undercover video that showed a fundraising executive disparaging conservatives and saying that the network could do without federal subsidies.

The 228-192 vote on the bill, which was brought to the floor on an emergency basis without hearings, was largely along party lines; all but seven Republicans voted "yes," while no Democrat voted for it.

The bill has little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The Republicans argued that the bill was needed to reduce federal spending, but the catalyst was clearly the surreptitious video, made by conservative activists posing as donors, of NPR's then-chief fundraiser running down the GOP and the tea party movement.

The uproar cost Vivian Schiller, NPR president and chief executive, her job, as well as the accelerated departure of the fundraiser, Ron Schiller. (They aren't related.) The network's firing in October of commentator Juan Williams also brought heat from conservatives.

"Let's be honest and talk about what this bill is about," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. "This bill is about making sure that we are spending taxpayer dollars the way that the people that earn them would spend them. We saw on video, executives at NPR saying that they don't need taxpayer dollars."

The bill would prohibit federal funding to NPR and prevent NPR's member stations from using federal funds to purchase NPR programming, such as "Morning Edition" or other shows. The 414 affiliated stations get about 10 percent of their funds -- $93 million in 2009 funding -- through the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Patrick Butler, president of the Public Media Association, which represents public television stations and NPR, was critical of the House vote.

"The only result would be the loss of thousands of jobs in this industry, the closing or severe restriction of hundreds of local stations serving small-town and rural America which depend on federal funds for 30 [percent] to 100 percent of their annual budgets, including program acquisition, and the loss of vital information for millions of Americans," Butler said.

Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, was among the lawmakers voting to defund NPR, saying it can survive without federal support.

"This is not about NPR as much as it is about financial priorities," Reed said. "We are borrowing more than40 cents in the names of our children and grandchildren for every taxpayer dollar we spend today. That is unsustainable and irresponsible. If it doesn't deal with national security, public safety, or economic development, the federal government cannot pay for it."

But Reps. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, and Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, disagreed, voting against the bill to eliminate the funding.

Slaughter dismissed the vote as a "political stunt" and said the loss of federal funding would damage WNED and WBFO in Buffalo, as well as WXXI in Rochester.

"NPR is not an ideological news outlet, and NPR radio bases their reporting in fact, really an anomaly today in the United States," she said. "Defunding NPR will cut off this valuable source of news from the Southern Tier of Western New York to the plains of the Upper Midwest and would put rural communities at a major disadvantage in the information age."

News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski contributed to this report.

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