Spending Bill Funds Corporation for Public Broadcasting Through FY2019--Past 2018 Election

By Terence P. Jeffrey | May 2, 2017 | 1:18pm EDT
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS and Education Chairman Tom Cole at March 28, 2017 hearing. (Screen Capture)

(CNSNews.com) -- The spending bill that the Republican-controlled Congress is preparing to send to President Donald Trump by the end of the week—ostensibly to keep the government funded through the end of fiscal 2017—guarantees federal funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting through the end of fiscal 2019.

By contrast, President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget blueprint calls for Congress to “eliminate” federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

CPB President Patricia Harrison told a congressional hearing in March that CPB needs to keep what she calls its “forward funding” to “provide a firewall of independence for our content providers that no matter who was in leadership, no matter what political party.”

Fiscal 2017 ends this Sept. 30. Fiscal 2018 ends on Sept. 30, 2018—about a month before the midterm congressional elections. Fiscal 2019 ends on Sept. 30, 2019—almost a year after the midterm elections, and eight months into the third year of President Trump’s four-year term.

The spending bill Congress is considering now—the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017”—would provide a total of $495 million to CPB. This includes $50 million for upgrading CPB’s “interconnection system,” and $445 million for CPB’s general fund in fiscal 2019.

Previous congresses have already appropriated $445 million each year for CPB’s general fund in fiscal years 2017 and 2018.

With the cooperation of Congress, CPB has been operating for years on what it calls its “two-year advance appropriation.”

In its own budget request to Congress, CPB said it needs this advanced funding because of “First Amendment considerations.”

“For 40 years, Congress has supported advance appropriations for CPB to help insulate the Corporation from politically motivated interference with programming,” says the CPB budget request.

“As the House Commerce Committee report accompanying the 1975 bill stated, advance funding ‘would go a long way toward eliminating both the risk of and the appearance of undue interference with and control of public broadcasting … and will minimize the possibility of any government scrutiny of or influence on programming that might occur in the course of the usual annual budgetary, authorization, and appropriation process.” With a two-year buffer in place, such influence is less likely because funding for the next two years is already secured.”

In a hearing on March 28, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS and Education Chairman Tom Cole asked CPB President Patricia Harrison about CPB’s need for “advance funding.”

“We have a very unusual funding stream, and that you are forward funded by a couple years, which is very unusual in the budget,” Cole told Harrison.

“I'm often asked about why this particular agency gets this particular treatment,” Cole said, as he asked her to explain it.

“Yes,” said Harrison, “and we're very, very appreciative of forward funding. And there are two reasons, the reasoning behind our forward funding.”

“[T]he first one [is] really important,” she said. “And it was to provide a firewall of independence for our content providers that no matter who was in leadership, no matter what political party, that our content would be removed from that pressure and that has worked over 50 years.”

“The other reason,” she said, “is, in order for us to get to go with a program or do the research, whether it's educational, the children's content or documentaries, that's much longer time. We enter into contracts, we have to be able to make these contracts. And then stations with the confidence that we are going to go ahead, they go out and are able to raise the money. And those are the two primary reasons.”

Chairman Cole then indicated his support for the advance funding of CPB.

“I think it's important for people to understand,” he said. “Because I think that frankly, that wall of independence is really critical to your mission and retaining the confidence that you need to retain, frankly, across the political spectrum. So, just want to get that on the record. “

In a March 15 press briefing, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said the administration intended to end funding of CPB.

“Are you guys going to zero out funding for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting?” a reporter asked.

“Yes,” Mulvaney said.

 “Zero out?” asked the reporter.

“No, I'm sorry, I was too quick with that,” said Mulvaney.

“You'll see it's an elimination, but you'll see an amount of money in that budget, and that is for--it is actually a sum amount of money that's necessary for us to unwind our involvement with the CPB,” said Mulvaney. “So you won't see a zero next to it.  But the policy is that we're ending federal involvement with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”

“Over a period of years?” asked a reporter.

“Well, this year,” said Mulvaney.

“This year?” the reporter asked.

“Probably next year you might see it be zero, but it may take a while to unwind that relationship,” said Mulvaney. “It's just the nature of contracts and so forth.”

At the White House briefing on March 16, Mulvaney said in response to a question by Melanie Arter of CNSNews.com that he could not imagine looking working families in the eye and telling them he was going to give their money to CPB. But Mulvaney would not say President Trump would veto a spending bill that included funding for CPB.

“I put myself in the shoes of that steelworker in Ohio, the coal-mining family in West Virginia, the mother of two in Detroit, and I'm saying, okay, I have to go ask these folks for money and I have to tell them where I'm going to spend it,” said Mulvaney. “Can I really go to those folks, look them in the eye and say, look, I want to take money from you and I want to give it to the Corporation of Public Broadcasting? That is a really hard sell, in fact, some of you don't think we can defend anymore.

“As to specific vetoes, you and I both know it doesn’t come over one by one, line item by line item doesn’t come over,” Mulvaney said. “They come over in large appropriations bills. And we'll work with Congress to go through the appropriations process and we'll make determinations on whether or not to sign appropriations bills or veto them at the appropriate time.”

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