Romney’s plan to cut PBS funding is rife with flaws

During last Wednesday’s debate, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that he plans to remove the federal subsidy for the Public Broadcasting Service. This statement reveals Romney’s weak and hypocritical policies in two ways.

One, PBS costs next to nothing when compared to other sections of the federal budget, and two, such a plan conflicts with Romney’s education-endorsing rhetoric throughout the debate, especially in light of PBS’s educational value.

Romney’s now-famous Big Bird line was: “I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. … But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for. That’s number one.”

So how much money would be spent on public broadcasting next year? The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the federal distributor of PBS and National Public Radio’s funding, will receive $445 million from the federal government in 2013, according to the House’s Committee on Appropriations.

This amount is a pittance when compared with $1.5 trillion spent on benefits programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security each year, not to mention the annual $700 billion that the Department of Defense demands. Proportionally, the Department of Defense receives nearly 1,600 times more money than public broadcast services. In other words, the government spends the same amount in one year on public broadcasting as the Pentagon spends in six hours.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a highly respected astrophysicist and frequent PBS contributor, highlighted this point on Twitter the night of the debate.

“Cutting PBS support (0.012 percent of budget) to help balance the Federal budget is like deleting text files to make room on your 500Gig hard drive,” he tweeted.

As Tyson’s simile illustrates, to cut public broadcasting funding would accomplish next to nothing. It’s crucial for voters — Obama and Romney supporters alike — to understand that slashing public broadcasting would do absolutely nothing to alleviate federal budget woes.

But beyond the budgetary issue is the importance of maintaining public broadcasting, an incredible educational source. Throughout the debate, Romney asserted his commitment to education several times, stating that, “I’m not going to cut education funding … I’m planning on continuing to grow, so I’m not planning on making changes there.”

Much like many of his ill-formed ideologies, Romney’s statement about PBS in light of this apparent passion for improving education is hypocritical and detrimental.

And public broadcasting is an educational service: Programs from NOVA, a show dedicated to science, to Frontline, a series devoted to in-depth documentaries and investigative journalism, exist to educate viewers on a wide range of important topics.

Additionally, public broadcasting provides an extraordinary amount of programming oriented at young children — which helps build something the nation desperately needs: an educated, prosperous future. Though Romney’s Big Bird reference quickly became a national meme, Sesame Street reaches millions of children across the country in its effort to promote early childhood literacy and quantitative skills. PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger stated in an interview with CNN last Thursday that PBS is “America’s biggest classroom.” When considering that shows produced for PBS Kids dominate Nielsen ratings for children under six, it’s hard to disagree.

If Romney sincerely plans to “[continue] to grow” education, he would know that cutting public broadcasting is not the way to do it.

Neither PBS nor any other public broadcasting program is the cause of the American federal deficit. Romney’s insinuation that public broadcasting somehow significantly contributes to the deficit is a red-herring argument that distracts voters from the real budget issues at hand: an immensely bloated military budget and an inefficient entitlements system.

Though Romney’s statement was made in the haste of a timed debate, voters should not forget its implications in the voting booth come November. Considering all that public broadcasting, such as PBS and NPR, offers — high quality educational programming viewed or heard by hundreds of millions of Americans every month — in conjunction with its remarkably small monetary footprint, Romney’s plans to cut PBS are, frankly, remarkably uninformed.


Matt Tinoco is a freshman majoring in international relations.

8 replies
  1. GM
    GM says:

    “This statement reveals Romney’s weak and hypocritical policies in two ways.” Boy, you sound like a Bruin in a Trojan Horse…maybe you should have gone to UCLA with opinions like that in your first sentence.

  2. libertyMinded
    libertyMinded says:

    When you are broke you have to cut the easy things and the hard things. PBS is just another corporation that doesn’t need a hand out, but takes it anyway. Of each dollar the Federal government spends $0.40 is borrowed. China has stopped buying our debt – who has the money to replace them?

  3. kurt toneys
    kurt toneys says:

    Written like a true freshman. Well intentioned and nicely prepared…what you miss in your arguements is that uncle sam is literally broke amd borrowing 1.5 TRILLION. OF OUR 4 TRILLION DOLLAR ANNUAL BUDGET from very hostile creditors. It is a symbolic cut meant to demonstrate seriousness of intent to reduce thelis country killing deficit. Think this goverment spending doesnt effect you? Wait till you try to geta job, buy a house,
    Do anything meaningfull where affordable credit is required. In reality, there endless desireable govwrnment programs that wlll need to be cut or eliminated to get our house in order. By the way guess who will be paying off the giant for generations? Answer: you and your childrens children. It will come in. The form of higher taxes, permanent high unemployment and more government intrusion in all areas of your life. Pbs is a realtively small part of the federal budget but a good place to start in showing that we can save this magnificent ship of stae that currently is listing hard to port and in danger of sinking.

  4. Jeff Khau
    Jeff Khau says:

    Let’s first ask why government is involved with televised education in the first place.

    It’s a great idea, except now we have the Internet.
    It’s a great idea, except it requires subsidies to keep it running.
    It’s a great idea, except it’s not profitable.

    So it’s not really that great of an idea. Sorry, but this is about efficiency – not education reform.

  5. Helen
    Helen says:

    Please, stop calling Medicare and Social Security “entitlements”. They are not entitlements! I have been paying into the system for years and if they are truly entitlements, then I want back all the money I have paid in. Please, stop with the entitlement bull and start looking at things the way they are. I love PBS, This Old House and all, but nothing at our local station has been even remotely good in years. If it is worthy, as KA LaVoie stated, it will survive. But how about cutting bloated salaries of senators and congressmen? How about giving them a taste of reality and making them pay for insurance and the like, just like we little people do? That certainly would eat away a chunk of budgetary woes, wouldn’t it?

  6. KA LaVoie
    KA LaVoie says:

    The issue is not that it is only $445 million…the issue is our government should not be funding it. PBS and NPR are just examples of things that must be cut from the federal budget. I happen to love PBS, but it should be funded by individuals who chose to send their dollars that direction. If it is worthy, it will survive.

  7. Justin
    Justin says:

    “One, PBS costs next to nothing when compared to other sections of the federal budget, and two, such a plan conflicts with Romney’s education-endorsing rhetoric throughout the debate, especially in light of PBS’s educational value.”

    Regarding number one, $445 million here and $445 million there and pretty soon you’re talking real money.

    Regarding your second point, the contribution of PBS to education isn’t very well defined. Although it has many educational shows, it won’t improve education if nobody is watching them. Plus, every time I check PBS (other than when Charlie Rose is on) it seems like their programming is all from the ’90’s.

    Anyway, PBS is taken for granted. Romney is doing PBS a favor by saying it’s in trouble. If it truly is worth keeping, we can find a way to save it.

Comments are closed.