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Why House Republicans are rushing to slash NPR funding

House Republican cohesiveness splintered in a key vote earlier this week, but NPR funding – long a target for conservatives – is almost certain to restore a picture of GOP unity.

By Staff writer / March 16, 2011

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) of Oregon speaks at an event at the US Capitol supporting federal funding for NPR and PBS Tuesday. The House is scheduled to vote on NPR funding Thursday.

Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom

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Washington

House GOP leaders are rushing a vote to ban all federal funding for NPR in an effort to reforge party unity a day after it splintered badly.

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Fifty-four conservatives defected Tuesday to vote against a spending bill that would forestall a government shutdown for three weeks that they felt didn't go far enough to cut spending. But there is little chance of House Republican leaders losing votes in its bid to kill funding for NPR – the third such vote in weeks. The issue has been a rallying point among conservatives for decades.

Earlier this month, conservative activists released a video purporting to show NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller calling tea partyers "seriously racist" and saying that despite potential damage to smaller stations, "Frankly, it is very clear that we would be better off in the long run without federal funding." In the subsequent outcry, Mr. Schiller left NPR and the organization's president, Vivian Schiller (no relation) resigned. (The full video, subsequently released, shows that Mr. Schiller's comments were selectively edited.)

The scandal may have changed no votes, but it certainly intensified partisan attacks on NPR (formerly known as National Public Radio).

“Public broadcasting has been a target for conservatives for a long time,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J.

A united front

The bill's pell-mell rush to the floor ignores several promises made to party members and the GOP base, including the freedom to attach amendments and 72 hours to review a spending bill before voting. These moves suggest Republican leadership feels an urgent need to show cohesiveness.

“The emergency is that Republicans are starting to break apart. Before they go home [Friday], leadership is trying to find votes to show that Republicans are on the same team and committed to conservative values,” Professor Zelizer says.

In response, conservatives say that they are targeting NPR as a move toward fiscal discipline, not for ideological reasons.

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