As Congress prepares for the next round of legislation on the federal budget, letters expressing bipartisan support for public broadcasting's funding requests have been delivered to two key subcommittee chairs within the past week.
On April 17, 105 members of Congress co-signed a letter to Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), chair and ranking minority member, respectively, of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, urging them to restore funding to the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program in fiscal 2014. PTFP, which provides matching grants for equipment upgrades at public stations, was eliminated from the federal budget in 2011. The program, which had received some $20 million in annual appropriations, has been key to extending pubcasting service to rural parts of the country.
Then on April 22, 123 members of Congress wrote to Reps. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chair and ranking minority member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, urging continued funding for CPB, as well as the Ready to Learn program funded through the Department of Education.
Pubcasting's top House allies, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Don Young (R-Alaska), helped lead the effort to organize bipartisan support for pubcasting's funding requests, and nine Republicans were willing to join at least one of their causes. The letter on PTFP restoration drew signatures from six Republicans: Reps. Young, Spencer Bachus (Ala.), Mark Amodei (Nev.), Howard Coble (N.C.), Leonard Lance (N.J.) and Tom Petri (Wisc.). All but one of those, Rep. Amodei, also signed the letter supporting appropriations for CPB and RTL, and four more Republicans added their signatures: Reps. Dave Reichert (Wash.), John Duncan (Tenn.), Chris Gibson (N.Y.) and Richard Hanna (N.Y.).
"This is the largest number of Representatives to sign these letters in many years, and it also confirms the growing bipartisan support for public broadcasting on Capitol Hill," Pat Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, told Current in a statement. "We are very grateful to the members who endorsed our funding letters, and we look forward to similar support and success in the Senate."
The letters reflect a major shift in political support for pubcasting among congressional Republicans. In 2012, a very different letter was circulating on Capitol Hill: one calling on Congress to defund CPB, written by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
Whether GOP congressional leaders have reconsidered their opposition to federal aid for public media remains to be seen. Rep. Kingston, chair of the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over CPB, has previously said he'd like to zero-out public broadcasting's appropriation.
In the fiscal 2014 budget proposal that the White House sent to Congress April 10, President Obama proposed maintaining funding for CPB while eliminating rural digital grants to stations and consolidating RTL into other education initiatives.