House Democrats made their case for continuing taxpayer funding of public media outlets such as NPR and PBS with a little help from Arthur the PBS cartoon character, who visited the Capitol Wednesday morning.
The friendly but silent aardvark joined Democratic Reps. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and others to hit back against Republicans who have pledged to cut the funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in the next budget.
“We need your help today,” Markey said as a person dressed as the character walked toward the Capitol building. “We can’t leave Arthur and all of his pals in the lurch.”
The members stood behind dolls of Sesame Street’s Big Bird, Grover and Elmo. Behind them, House aides held up signs showing Bert and Ernie being handed a letter that reads, “GOPink Slip: You are fired,” and another that showed cartoon characters being tossed away from a scale weighed down by “Big Oil.”
“We’re here to create jobs, not lay off Bert and Ernie,” said Rep. Nita Lowey of New York.
The members warned that ending government funding to public broadcasting would eliminate the programs, and that the market could not be trusted to provide quality broadcasting for children or news content for adults.
Reverting to only free-market, consumer-driven broadcasting would be “like treating the Library of Congress as an amusement park rather than as a seat of knowledge,” said Rep. Paul Tonko of New York.
Democrats are offering an amendment to the Republican budget bill that would keep funds flowing to public broadcasting outlets. Republicans released their plan to cut more than $60 billion from the federal budget last week.
The campaign to deny funding for the media outlets was reignited last year when National Public Radio fired veteran news analyst Juan Williams when he said that he gets “nervous” when he sees people at airports wearing “Muslim garb” who identify “themselves first and foremost as Muslims.” Williams now works full-time at Fox News.
The liberal activist group MoveOn.org has also launched a campaign to keep taxpayer funds flowing to public media, with a petition drive to “save” NPR.
“Congress must save NPR and PBS once and for all. Congress should guarantee permanent funding and independence from partisan meddling,” the petition read.
The House is set to vote on a final version of the budget plan this week.
Alex Brown contributed to this report.