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Mitt Romney refused to offer policy specifics through most of Wednesday night's debate, but there was one thing he did get very specific about: Big Bird. Romney won't tell voters his tax plan, but he'll stop Big Bird from sucking on the government teat.
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.
Romney will cut revenues by a huge amount—in the debate, he repeatedly insisted it wasn't $5 trillion, but that's the only number anyone has reliably been able to extract from his refusal to explain his plan—and cutting all that government money flowing to PBS is his big answer to fill the gap. How much government money? Not very much, it turns out. According to Forbes:
PBS is not primarily funded through federal tax dollars. In contrast, it’s largely supported by, well, viewers like you (sound familiar?). Almost 60% of funding for public television comes from private donors or grants. Additional funding is provided by dues paid by member stations. [...]
For fiscal year 2010, federal funding for PBS through CPB accounted for about 12% of PBS’ revenue. In terms of dollars, that works out to about $300 million. There’s not much wiggle room to be had: the money that actually goes to CPB is split according to a mostly statutory formula. For 2015, Congress has budgeted $445 million for CPB. That’s less than 1% of the budget. Way less. It’s about 1/100th of a 1%.
This isn't new territory. Republicans in Congress have tried to defund PBS before, and it wasn't popular. A 2011 poll found 69 percent of voters opposed to defunding PBS. People like Big Bird. And that's even though another 2011 poll found that PBS gets more of the federal budget than it does. Much more: 30 percent of people thought PBS gets 5 percent or more of the federal budget, and another 40 percent believed it gets between 1 percent and 5 percent. The actual share of the federal budget PBS was getting at the time was .00014 percent.
Romney's setting up the need for $9.6 trillion in non-defense cuts. His answer? Fire Big Bird to save $445 million. It may have been the one thing he got specific about in the debate, but it's not a real answer.
Originally posted to Laura Clawson on Thu Oct 04, 2012 at 06:32 AM PDT.