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House panel OK's cutting $100m of PBS budget

Appropriation bill needs full approval

WASHINGTON -- The House Appropriations Committee approved a bill yesterday that would cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting by $100 million, or 25 percent, starting in October.

The funding cut was included in a massive, $142.5 billion spending bill for health, education, and labor programs that still must be passed by the full House and Senate.

Representative Ralph Regula, an Ohio Republican who crafted the legislation, said 49 federal programs were being eliminated and other funding reduced because of tight spending limits.

Regula's original bill would have eliminated funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 2008, but a Democratic amendment earmarked $400 million so that public broadcasting could use the money in the future. However, $79 million in cuts for new infrastructure programs would force delays in converting public TV stations to digital technology.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting provides federal funds to the Public Broadcasting Service, or PBS, a nonprofit organization operated by 348 public television stations in the United States.

Lee Sloan, a spokeswoman for PBS, said smaller public television stations that rely heavily on federal funds would be hardest hit by the cuts, if they become law. She noted that in past funding fights, the Senate has restored funds.

Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Malden, said he would try to add funding for public broadcasting on the House floor.

PBS, which made its mark with children's television programs like ''Sesame Street" and popular documentaries, has been targeted by congressional Republicans in the past for steep funding reductions.

In 1995, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich tried to eliminate funding for public television, hoping to turn it into a privately funded operation, but relented after a public outcry. Yesterday, Representative Nita Lowey, Democrat of New York, brought puppets of ''Sesame Street" characters Bert and Ernie to remind Republicans of that battle.

This year, PBS's news shows came under attack for allegedly having a liberal bias -- a charge the group's president denied.

Conservatives also complained about a recent children's show in which some of the characters visited a farm in Vermont that was run by a family headed by two women.

Representative David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, said the 25 percent reduction in funding for the coming year would be ''disastrous" for public broadcasting, which he said ''is the most valuable resource we have for getting quality programming for children."

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