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House Busts Buster

Buster will have to send his postcards from the poorhouse if some legislators get their way.

The House Labor-HHS Appropriations Committee Thursday voted to zero out funding for Ready to Learn (RTL). That is the PBS educational kids programming initiative that caught flack from the Department of Education for a Postcards From Buster episode--RTL is funded primarily by DOE--featuring a lesbian couple.

That criticism aside, the Bush Administration had still proposed $23.3 million for Ready to Learn, only $100,000 less than public TV had asked for. The committee would have none of it, literally.

The House committee also cut $39.4 million to help with the digital transition, and $39.6 million for interconnection equipment, to go along with another House appropriations committee's earlier cut of  a $21 million technology seed fund.

In addition, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's base budget--for funding programming and station operations for FY 2006--was cut by almost a quarter. $400 million had been requested by noncoms, Bush had proposed $390 million, but the House committee approved only $300 million.

CPB has been forward funded two years, so the $400 million for 2006 was approved in 2004, but the committee decided to cut it anyway, and the administration is trying to do away with the forward funding entirely.

The over-$200 million in cuts could still be restored in the Senate, as has been the case with previous cuts. But Association of Public Television Stations President John Lawson was characterizing the House vote as a "direct attack on public television and radio," which he called "some of the last, locally controlled and independent media voices in our country."

Lawson saw the RTL cut as a punitive action stemming from the Buster controversy. He also called the $90 million cut from CPB's forward funding a threat to its editorial freedom. "Without the ability to rely on advance appropriations, public broadcasters lose an important firewall against influence in political programming decisions," he said.

Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee were equally angered by the cuts, saying Republican leaders have been "using every vehicle of the Federal Government to push their right-wing ideology," including public broadcasting. "First they are trying to co-opt America's public broadcasting stations," the Democrats said in a statement. "Now, they are trying to bankrupt them."