MCCARTHY: You can pry NPR from my warm, latte-clutching hands


Photo by Amy Elliot-Miesel

A couple weeks ago, The Hill reported on the Trump administration’s plan to slash the federal government’s budget. All told, the Trump team wants to shrink government spending by $10.5 trillion over the next 10 years. At the same time, Trump campaigned on the promise that he would not touch Medicare or Social Security, two of the country’s largest spending programs. Where exactly is this $10.5 trillion coming from?

It turns out two of the budget’s goals are the privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which notably runs PBS and NPR, and the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. CPB and the NEA have long been targets of spending cuts from Republican administrations. These programs account for so little federal spending, however, that using them to reduce the deficit is akin to getting a haircut to lose weight.

The less than half a billion dollars the federal government provides CPB accounts for just under 15 percent of the organization’s annual revenue and is insignificant when compared to the $441 billion government deficit. Of course, the deficit is only a pretense for removing funding. Republicans have long complained that NPR and PBS have a liberal bias, and evidence shows that both have audiences slightly to the left of center.

I get it, people don’t like “paying” for things they don’t use. But public broadcasting, much like public education, benefits all of us by creating a more educated, informed public. PBS shows like “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “Sesame Street” and “The Magic School Bus” socialize children in morality and ethics while also providing educational and entertaining content.

NPR generates some of the best business and political news coverage of any media organization. While it is difficult to apply these benefits to a standard cost-benefit analysis, they should not be understated.

The NEA’s impact is also difficult to quantify. Even artists sometimes have trouble explaining the true value of art. Instead of trying to prove that art has worth for its own sake, think about what wouldn’t exist without funding from the NEA.

Without an endowment from NEA, Louisiana State University Press would never have been able to publish John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “A Confederacy of Dunces.” Actor Robert Redford, founder of the Sundance Institute, said, “Our very beginning was due in large part to the support of the NEA … It’s hard to imagine the arts in this country without the NEA as a rallying point, a promoter of independent thinking artists and a symbol of what we hope to be.”

Promoting arts also has a practical purpose. What makes the U.S. the world’s most powerful nation isn’t just its military and economic supremacy, but also its ability to project influence. Much of U.S. influence comes from it being the world’s dominant cultural force for much of the last century. By funding the arts, we continue to ensure American cultural superiority influences all but the most isolated countries.

Shrinking the deficit is an admirable goal, but lawmakers should approach it rationally. They either need to drastically cut defense and entitlement spending or significantly increase revenue by raising taxes and closing loopholes. Defunding the arts and privatizing public broadcasting achieves nothing.