You hear him at the end of nearly every NPR broadcast.
The host wraps up the news. And then on comes the mystery voice, reading the underwriting credits. The voice utters authoritarian decrees, postulating that "Silk is soy" or asserting that "ADM" is "supermarket to the world."
And then there's the payoff line, as the steady elocution of the mystery voice waxes ever so slightly on a solitary word.
"This is NPR. National Public Radio."
If Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) gets his way in the House of Representatives today, the mystery voice may have to alter his patter.
"I want NPR to stand for National Private Radio," says Lamborn. "They can and should stand on their own two feet."
Lamborn is the chief sponsor of a measure to ban tax dollars from flowing to NPR. In addition, the legislation prohibits public radio stations from using federal dollars they receive from the Corporation from Public Broadcasting to pay NPR dues. The bill would also bar individual public stations from using federal money to purchase programming.
The House is expected to adopt Lamborn's package today.
NPR has been at the center of a firestorm in recent months. It axed commentator Juan Williams last year over comments he made on Fox about Muslims. Most recently NPR president Vivian Schiller resigned after clandestine video revealed Ron Schiller (no relation), the organization's top fundraiser, making disparaging comments about conservatives and tea party supporters. These contretemps come as the new Republican House majority is determined to eliminate all federal support for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
So now, the GOP is swinging its budget axe not just at public broadcasting in general, but specifically at NPR.
(In the interest of full disclosure, before joining Fox in 2007, I had three career stops in public broadcasting. I worked at NPR, public radio news service Capitol News Connection and at public radio station WMUB-FM in Oxford, OH when I was in graduate school.)
The public radio funding apparatus is convoluted and confusing. So here's some background on "what" constitutes NPR, what "isn't" NPR and how tax dollars are used to support public radio.
For starters, NPR is a program service based in Washington, DC. Only a fraction of NPR's annual budget comes directly from federal government. But NPR receives significant chunks of federal dollars through indirect means.
Most tune in to NPR on one its hundreds of "member stations" scattered all over the country. Not a single antennae, shotgun mic or audio console at any of these stations is owned by NPR. In fact, private consortiums and universities own and operate many of the stations. But shows from NPR, ranging from "Morning Edition" to "Car Talk," make up a significant share of the program schedules at these stations.
Many public radio stations receive federal money from the Corporation from Public Broadcasting (CPB). The CPB is a private organization funded by Congress. Stations sometimes transfer funds they get from the CPB to NPR in the form of dues or to purchase programs.
That's how some federal revenue winds up in NPR's coffers here in Washington. And that's exactly what Doug Lamborn and many other conservatives want to stop, especially in the wake of the recent dustups.
Some conservatives want to "defund" NPR because of what they interpret as a liberal bias on its news programs. But even Lamborn says that's not his beef.
"They do have a lot of good coverage. When they cover me, they are very fair and professional. I have no quibble with how they cover things," Lamborn said. "I'd like to see them thrive, but in the private market."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is one of Congress's most ardent defenders of directing federal dollars to public broadcasters. Blumenauer won't defend NPR's recent management mishaps. But Lamborn's legislation to single out NPR troubles him.
"This is an ideological attack on the core of public broadcasting under the guise of trying to slap NPR," Blumenauer said. "It's goofy."
Blumenauer argues that while the GOP's effort is directed at NPR, it could "boomerang" to its stations. He notes that the bill bans stations from using federal dollars not only to purchase programs from NPR, but also from American Public Media. It's American Public Media that distributes Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" and "Marketplace." Not NPR. The same can be said for stations that broadcast "The Takeaway" or "This American Life." Both of those shows are distributed by Public Radio International.
"The irony is that this is going to really cripple smaller stations and is not going to affect NPR nearly as much," said Blumenauer.
On Wednesday afternoon, the House Rules Committee met to establish the blueprint for handling the NPR bill on the floor. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the top Democrat on the panel, took umbrage at why Republicans decided to focus exclusively on public radio.
"Why didn't you go after television? Was Big Bird too much for you?" Slaughter asked her GOP colleagues.
Incensed at what he viewed as a partisan attack on NPR from the right, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) concocted an amendment to prohibit the federal government from using tax dollars to purchase ads on Fox News.
"If we insist on going down this road Mr. Chairman, we should be fair and balanced in the way we do it," said McGovern, who referred to Fox as a "partisan, political platform" that "is clearly biased."
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) also took a shot at Fox.
"We choose what we want to look at in this country. We choose what we want to listen to in this country. I look at Hannity. I look at O'Reilly. I look at Beck. I choose to do that. I don't like ‘em. And I probably never would," said Hastings, who later noted that he knows Sean Hannity personally.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) didn't appreciate the either approach.
"I think there is some ideology going after NPR and some ideal logy in going after Fox," Polis said.
The Rules Committee later voted down McGovern's amendment on a party line vote.
But it wasn't just the intent of Lamborn's bill that disturbed liberals. It was how the House Republican leadership brought the measure to the floor.
Several Democrats pointed out that at the beginning of the year, the GOP brass promised it would follow the tedious but orderly process of incrementally moving a piece of legislation from subcommittee to committee and then to the floor. Opponents of today's measure claimed the Republican braintrust violated its own pledge by "rushing" the NPR bill to a vote.
House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA) largely rejected those assertions. But the California Republican conceded he wished the legislation had "gone through a more rigorous process."
Regardless, some lawmakers from both parties think getting NPR off the federal dole might save the organization some headaches.
"This is something that is long past due," said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC). "Officials at NPR have said themselves that they do not need this funding. So we're simply going to accommodate their opinion."
And that's why a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers is expected to block NPR from receiving any federal dollars. That means if the bill ever becomes law, the mystery voice reading the funding credits at the end of the news may have to declare that you're tuned to "National Private Radio."
David Dreier doesn't think that would be such a bad outcome for NPR. Especially in an era of resource consolidation.
"I think they'll be able to keep the same acronym then," Dreier said.