Bush puts the fun in ‘unfunded mandate’

“Oscar the Grouch has been friendlier to the Sesame Street characters than President Bush [has been],” congressman Ed Markey (D–Mass.) said last week. And with $157 million possibly sliced from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s budget in the next two years, Bush is a much more serious problem than an ornery green monster living in a trash can.

We could be part of a generation that slowly watches public broadcasting die in America. Both television and radio programming are endangered now, as more and more of the federal funding pie is being diverted to hurricane reconstruction and the continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush’s new proposed spending plan axes 13 percent of public broadcasting’s budget for 2007, and almost as much for 2008. Although the head of the Association of Public Television Stations has called the cuts “devastating,” Bush isn’t listening.

Meanwhile, the largest military budget in the world is being inflated once again to manage its tentacles abroad.

Stations under the public broadcasting umbrella, however, are expected to spend millions of their own dollars in a second mandate the Bush administration set forth. By February 17, 2009, all broadcasting signals in the U.S. will have to be digital. Analog TV will be dead, so unless you get a new TV or a conversion box for your boob tube, plan on sitting in front of a black screen.

How is Bush reconciling his two opposing mandates? He’s not. It’s No Child Left Behind all over again: mandating more, giving less.

If his new budget is put into effect, public broadcasting will have had its funding reduced by 24.7 percent, also slashing the $65 million specifically requested by public broadcasters to help pay for digital conversion costs. In the same breath, Bush is beefing up the budget for the Broadcasting Board of Governors — the American government’s massive mouthpiece organization for broadcast propaganda abroad — by 4.3 percent. This is unjustifiable.

Surely the irony has escaped our esteemed President. It hasn’t escaped PBS.

Where does this leave Big Bird, the Teletubbies, and the rest of the public broadcasting family? Considering the total costs for digital conversion will total an estimated $1.7 billion — $2 million to $6 million per broadcast station — it’s a not-so-beautiful day in the neighborhood for American public broadcasting.