Romney: I like Big Bird, but the subsidy has to go

DENVER -- Mitt Romney drew Sesame Street character Big Bird and debate moderator Jim Lehrer into the crossfire of the first presidential debate Wednesday, saying despite his admiration for the pair, he’d cut federal funding to PBS, the public TV network on which they appear.

"I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS," Romney said.

He continued, noting he’d make the cuts as part of his deficit-reduction plan and has long held that he would determine whether to cut federal programs by deciding if they’re worth funding with borrowed money. Romney said some public broadcasting funding would not pass that test.

“I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too,” Romney said to Lehrer. “But I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for."

Republicans in Congress have voted to cut funding for public broadcasting and the president’s 2012 budget slashed $20 million out of PBS’s budget.

The nod to the gigantic yellow centerpiece of the legendary children’s program was an instant hit on Twitter after Gov. Romney’s point.   The term “Big Bird” was trending with 17,000 tweets per minute shortly after the mention.  And many on the social networking site joked that a loud noise heard off the debate stage moments later was Big Bird trying to rush the stage in anger.

That buzz also helped give a boost to a parody Twitter account, @FiredBigBird, which by the end of the debate was topping 10,000 followers.