House Panel Cuts Public Broadcasting Funds

Public television stations and National Public Radio (search) would lose 25 percent of their federal funding next year under a bill cleared by a House committee Thursday night, although some of their funding for future years would be restored.

The moves came as the House Appropriations panel approved a tightly drawn spending bill for labor, health and education programs. For the first time since the early days of GOP control of Congress 10 years ago, the measure, taken as a whole, makes actual cuts to the programs funded by the bill.

The bill is perhaps the most controversial spending bill that passes Congress each year, and Senate GOP moderates have traditionally forced more money into it. Tight budget times, however, promise to make that difficult this time around.

The measure eliminates almost 50 programs totaling $2.3 billion and cuts many others, including a $100 million cut from an already-enacted budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (search) for the budget year starting Oct. 1. The corporation provides grants to local public broadcasting stations and creators of programming.

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., brought puppets of "Sesame Street" characters Bert and Ernie to remind Republicans of the battle 10 years ago when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (search), R-Ga., unsuccessfully led the charge to take away subsidies for public broadcasting but relented after a public outcry.

A Democratic amendment to provide CPB with $400 million in future-year funding was approved by voice vote, but $79 million in cuts for new infrastructure programs would force delays in converting public TV stations to digital technology.

The bill contains $142.5 billion in spending under lawmakers' control, but makes cuts to many of the more than 500 programs funded by the bill. For example, President Bush's signature No Child Left Behind (search) education initiative would be cut by $806 million — more than 3 percent.

The overall bill is essentially frozen at current levels but new demands have forced cuts in long-established programs.

Republicans were able to find $1 billion over current-year funding for Pell Grants (search), allowing a $50 increase in the maximum annual grant to $4,100. Lawmakers were also forced to find almost $1 billion for the cost of implementing the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. Those increases forced Labor Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, to comb through the measure for cuts in other popular programs.

The cuts include $198 million from subsidies for low-income people to pay for their heat and air conditioning bills. The National Institutes of Health (search), whose budget has doubled over recent years, would be essentially frozen at $28.5 billion.

Meanwhile, the committee rejected an attempt by social conservatives to ban federal funding for new research involving the transfer of genetic material into human eggs to grow stem cells. Opponents of the research, led by Rep. David Weldon, R-Fla., say it unethically creates cloned embryos. The research is under way at Stanford University and Harvard University.

"The cloning is about to begin," Weldon said.

Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., argued against the amendment, saying it would hang up the underlying funding bill in unending battles over stem cell research. Weldon's amendment was defeated by a 36-29 vote.

Separately, the committee approved a $2.8 billion bill funding the budget for the House of Representatives. The committee added legislation aimed at ensuring the continuity of Congress in the case of a catastrophic terrorist attack. The measure would require special elections within 49 days of an attack that kills or incapacitates 100 House members.