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Muppets' Role in Public Broadcasting Funding Feud Sends GOP Lawmaker Gonzo

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Wednesday: Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., accompanied by Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y., Arthur the Aardvark, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., speaks during news conference on Capitol Hill to discuss the future of Public Broadcasting. (AP2011)

The Muppets are finding Capitol Hill isn't quite as friendly as Sesame Street.

After being thrust into the political spotlight Wednesday at a Democratic-held press conference to defend funding for public broadcasting, the Muppets are now the target of Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who accuses the PBS stars of being "political animals."

In a blog entitled "The Muppet Lobby," the South Carolina conservative -- who like the rest of his party wants to end taxpayer funding for public media -- pointed to Elmo's testimony before Congress about the need for more arts funding, his participation in other press conferences to increase spending on public broadcasting and his appearances on the lecture circuit last year with Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genochowski to promote federal broadband Internet.

"At this rate, Americas can expect Big Bird to start filming commercials to hype ObamaCare," he wrote on his blog. "If the FCC can borrow Elmo from PBS to build support for their plans, what's to stop the Department of Health and Human Services from feeding Big Bird some lines?"

On Wednesday, Democratic Reps. Ed Markey, Betty McCollum held a press conference that featured Arthur the Aardvark, Elmo and Big Bird. The furry animals didn't speak, but Arthur maintained a painted grin as Markey railed against Republicans' plans to cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in a temporary spending bill to keep the government operating through the rest of the year.

"This is an ideological attack on public broadcasting," Markey reportedly said. "Arthur, your silence is eloquent.

"We cannot allow Republicans to lavish hundreds of millions of dollars a year in tax breaks on Big Oil while leaving Arthur and his pals in the lurch," Markey added.

Markey and Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Nita Lowey, Sam Farr, Paul Tonko and Bill Owens were introducing an amendment to the spending bill that will restore funding to PBS and National Public Radio. An amendment to the 2011 spending bill being debated on the House passed earlier this week.

"The GOP should be less preoccupied with silencing cookie monster and more focused on reviving the economy," Lowey reportedly said. Lowey invited Bert and Ernie to testify on Capitol Hill in 1995 when Republicans attempted to slash funding for public broadcasting.

"How long will it take for some people to learn that people want Congress to focus on creating jobs, not laying off Bert and Ernie," she said.

But the Traditional Values Coalition announced Thursday that it was penning a letter to Markey questioning how he defines wasteful spending when the Massachusetts Democrat introduced legislation in two previous budgets to give $38 million to fund an institute to be named after the late Sen. Ted Kennedy -- even before Kennedy died.  

"Here's a thought: refund the American taxpayer the $38 million the Kennedy family felt entitled to get from the government. Maybe then there'd be more money for poor Arthur and Big Bird?" TVC Executive Director Andrea Lafferty wrote on the organization's blog. 

DeMint too expressed disbelief that President Obama would ask Congress to give the Corporation for Public Broadcasting $451 million in his new budget with the nation owing more than $14 trillion and CPB getting $420 million from Congress last year.

"To put that in perspective, it would take Count Von Count more than 42 years to count the 451 million, one 'Ah!Ah!Ah!' dollar at a time."

DeMint argued, "It's time to draw a clear distinction between the government and entertainment."

"Democrats shouldn't cast our children's most beloved creatures as characters for their big-government, big-spending causes," he wrote, adding that shows like Sesame Street reap millions from toy and consumer product sales.

"When taxpayer funding for public broadcasting ends, rest assured, Cookie Monster will still be fed," he added.