On Big Bird, Mitt Romney, and Fiscal Conservatism

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Last week in the presidential debates, Mitt Romney indicated he’d cut funding to PBS. Here’s Romney’s quote from the debate:

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. Actually like you, too. 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.

Sure, Democrats are all bent out of shape on this. First, they don’t like cutting funding for anyone, anywhere, ever; but how could the Republicans be so cruel, so insane, that they’d want to drop funding for PBS?

The hatred has been spewed. People are saying that Romney wants to roast Big Bird and that the Republicans’ solution to spending is to cut educational programs. That’s a little bit of an extreme reaction.

Should we cut funding to PBS? Oh yes. Most definitely. The federal government shouldn’t be in the business of funding television stations. That’s well beyond the legitimate roles of government.

But what about Big Bird and his friends? Do we just let Big Bird die?

It’s important to remember that not all funding of PBS is federal money. According to Forbes, federal funding for public broadcasting was just 12% of its budget in 2010. The other 88% come from private grants and donations.

While a 12% cut in revenue would be tough, PBS would survive. It wouldn’t be easy, but that’s not exactly killing Big Bird.

But even if it did, even if cutting PBS funding resulted in an immediate shutdown of PBS, don’t believe for a minute that a private business wouldn’t come in and keep Sesame Street on the air. Suggesting that Romney and the Republicans are trying to kill Big Bird is absurd.

Equally absurd, on the other side of the political spectrum, is the suggestion that Romney’s willingness to cut PBS funding makes him a fiscal conservative.

Federal dollars for PBS in 2010 were $300 million. For 2015, $445 million has been allocated. Cutting this expense isn’t a drastic move at all. That’s less than 1/100th of 1% of federal spending. Here’s a chart:

Romney is right when he says we should cut this spending, but let’s not allow him to use this one example to transform himself into a fiscal conservative. PBS spending is literally 1 penny per $100 of federal spending.

Cuts need to be made across the board – big cuts. Cuts that will really make the Democrats scream. Cuts that will make most Republicans scream.

We’ve extended ourselves way too far. We can’t attack this deficit by taking a stand over pennies. If Mitt Romney wants to convince anyone that he’s a fiscal conservative, he’s going to have to do more than suggest we cut funding to PBS.

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