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NPR Funding, Station Choice At Stake

The U.S. House has passed a bill that would drastically alter the public radio landscape.

H.R. 1076, passed Thursday, March 17, in the U.S. House under a closed rule, would prohibit federal funding for NPR and would forbid member stations such as WFIU to use federal funds to acquire programs such as Morning Edition, A Prairie Home Companion, and This American Life.

The bill passed by a 228-192 vote.

Here is how Indiana’s members of Congress voted:
Larry Bucshon (R, IN-8): to defund NPR
Dan Burton (R, IN-5): to defund NPR
Andre Carson (D, IN-7): not to defund NPR
Joe Donnelly (D, IN-2): not to defund NPR
Mike Pence (R, IN-6): did not vote
Todd Rokita (R, IN-4): to defund NPR
Marlin Stutzman (R, IN-3): to defund NPR
Peter Visclosky (D, IN-1): not to defund NPR
Todd Young (R, IN-9): to defund NPR

All 228 “yea” votes to defund, including those of Indiana Representatives Bucshon, Burton, Rokita, Stutzman, and Young, were Republican. Seven Republicans and 185 Democrats, including Indiana House members Carson, Donnelly, and Visclosky, voted “nay” to preserve funding for NPR. One Republican voted “present.” Five Republicans, including Rep. Pence, and seven Democrats did not vote.

Here are some key points about this bill:

  • Cripples NPR, Public Radio Stations, and Public Radio Programming. H.R. 1076, introduced by Rep. Doug Lambron (R-CO), bars making federal funds available for:  National Public Radio; payment of dues to NPR; and the acquisition of any radio programming by or for the use of a public radio station. It would cripple NPR, public radio stations, and programming vital to more than 27 million Americans each week.
  • Hurts 900 Public Radio Stations, Particularly Small Stations in Rural America. A major impact of this bill will be to hurt the 900 public radio stations across the country.  Many of them will be deprived of several hours of unique programming every day. This will particularly hit numerous smaller stations in rural and regional areas where there are fewer news outlets.  It is small, rural stations that are particularly dependent on federal funding for their viability.
  • Attack on All Public Radio Content. The bill is also an attack on public radio content generally, not just NPR.  The bill prohibits public radio stations from using federal funds to acquire any programming from any source.  This includes National Public Radio, American Public Media, Public Radio International, Public Radio Exchange, and program-producing stations like WNYC, WBUR, and many others.
  • Largest Impact on Stations That Most Depend on Some Federal Support. To be clear, under this bill, non-federal dollars could still be used for national public radio content, but the many smaller stations that depend on federal dollars to make up a quarter of their budget or more would be hard-pressed to offset those costs with private donations and grants. Many of these smaller stations will be unable to provide the hallmark programming their listeners have come to know and depend upon.
  • No Savings. According to a preliminary estimate from CBO, this bill will produce no savings for the taxpayer and will not reduce the deficit.
  • Destroys Jobs. It is estimated that enactment of this bill would endanger 9,000 jobs at local public radio stations in communities across the country.
  • No Hearings, No Mark-Up, No 72-Hour Review. On this bill, Republicans have broken all of their promises of transparency.  It was introduced on Tuesday and is being rushed to the Floor on Thursday – 48 hours later. It is also being considered without the benefit of hearings, testimony or expert review.
  • American Public Supports Public Broadcasting. The House GOP leadership is pushing this bill despite the fact that most Americans support public broadcasting.  Recent public opinion polling demonstrates that almost 70% of all voters oppose terminating funding for public broadcasting, and that support for public broadcasting is consistently strong across the political spectrum.

Barring public radio stations from using federal funds to acquire public radio programming would be a huge disruption to the economic model used by public radio stations to serve audiences and to develop local programming.  Following is an overview of why this prohibition would be so disruptive and would undermine the viability of many stations.

  • This legislation prohibits public radio stations from using federal funds to acquire programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered, This American Life, Prairie Home Companion, Car Talk, Classical 24, World Café, On Point, The Takeaway, the Brian Lehrer Show, and many, many others.
  • These programs are essential catalysts for local stations to attract and grow audience.  By drawing listenership to local stations, these shows and others generate strong local financial support for stations; support that leads to increased local reporting and locally-produced programming.
  • These programs represent a broad array of producers and local public radio stations from around the country.  Decisions to purchase and air these programs are based on market factors in local communities by local station staff. This legislation prohibits local purchase decisions using federal funds.
  • This current funding model for public radio stations, including the use of federal funds by stations for programming purchases, enables an investment in local programming which, on average, comprises almost one-third of local station broadcast content.
  • Eliminating a station’s ability to use federal funds to acquire programming would create a cascade effect that could ultimately undermine a station’s financial model. Stations not able to acquire these shows would lose local listeners, which in turn would shrink the pool of potential donors and reduce the amount of money a station could charge corporate underwriters.  For many small stations, their existence would be jeopardized.
  • In summary, under this legislation, the operation of many public radio stations across the country would be severely compromised.

The Office of the President has issued this Statement of Administration Policy about the bill:

The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 1076, which would unacceptably prohibit Federal funding of National Public Radio (NPR) and the use of Federal funds by public radio stations to acquire radio content.  As part of the President’s commitment to cut spending, the President’s Budget proposed targeted reductions in funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which provides a small amount of funding for NPR, and the Administration has expressed openness to other spending reductions that are reasonable.  However, CPB serves an important public purpose in supporting public radio, television, and related online and mobile services.  The vast majority of CPB’s funding for public radio goes to more than 700 stations across the country, many of them local stations serving communities that rely on them for access to news and public safety information. Undercutting funding for these radio stations, notably ones in rural areas where such outlets are already scarce, would result in communities losing valuable programming, and some stations could be forced to shut down altogether.

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