Big Bird's head is on the chopping block. No, this is not some twisted version of Thanksgiving Dinner.
Instead, the House Appropriations held hearings last Thursday on the future of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the federally funded institution that brings us not only Sesame Street and Mister Rogers, but National Public Radio and other cultural and educational programs.
If you listen to the Republicans talk about it, the possible eradication of CPB is not an attack on Bert and Ernie but rather an assault on a liberal propaganda machine that has no right to receive federal funding.
In the days following the November election, Newt Gingrich and his colleagues were already gearing up for the destruction of the "liberal sandbox."
The hearings, however, have not given rise to such ideological rhetoric. The members of Congress who favor eliminating funding present the proposed cuts as a purely budgetary matter. Said U.S. Representative Dana Roarbacher (R-Ca.), "If we are serious about reducing the dangerously high level of deficit spending, we must have the courage to cut from the federal budget anything that is not absolutely necessary for the government to do."
Gingrich made a similar statement during his daily press conference, saying that the cuts were being considered because "everything must be on the table except Social Security" in order to balance the federal budget.
It would be naive to suppose that the Republicans have changed their motivations for cutting CPB's funding overnight. The budget issue is being used as a screen to hide their ideological aims.
Anyone who argues against these cuts will seem to oppose eliminating the budget deficit or to not have the "courage" to get tough and make the choices that must be made. By placing the CPB subsidy at the top of the Appropriations Committee's agenda, the Republicans can use the momenturn from the Congressional election to put the Democrats on the defensive.
It's a savvy political maneuver, but it shouldn't fool anyone. If the considerations were primarily financial, CPB would not be such a priority. Its budget is minuscule--only $319 million a year--compared to other "wasteful" federal agencies that sop up far more government dollars.
Even though Committee Chair John Porter (R-Ill.) was "rather amazed" at all of the attention that the CPB hearings drew, he was fully aware of CPB's symbolic significance for both parties. If he were serious about cutting the budget, he would not have wasted his party's energy on such a fiscally insignificant battle.
In an attempt to hide from the consequences of their attack on CPB, Republicans predict that CPB's most popular programs will be bought up by the networks and will flourish in the private sector.
In the private sector, however, Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers will have to contend with the same market pressures that induce the networks to offer sleazy talk shows and sappy soap operas that comprise the current day-time fare.
The same applies to adult programs offered by CPB--particularly news. With one or two exceptions, all network news programs consist of five-second sound bites and bland, superficial reporting. Neither the television nor the radio markets have given rise to high-quality news, and it is doubtful that the CPB shows will be able to survive for long if they have to compete with tasteless but popular trash such as A Current Affair or Hard Copy.
The fact is, cutting CPB's funding may mean the end of its far superior programming.
Opponents of CPB also argue that is inefficient. Reed Irvine of the conservative watchdog group Accuracy in Media testified that CPB's news budget is almost four times as large as CNN's.