By Michael Morella |
At this point in his presidency, Barack Obama has promised unemployment would be below 6 percent and the economy would be back on track. Instead, employment is not even keeping up with population growth and nearly a million fewer people are working than when the president came into office.
Rather than explain why his bigger government and explosive spending hasn't fostered an economic recovery, the Obama administration has decided keeping Big Bird on the government payroll is a more critical fight. What he has failed to justify is how putting Main Street on the hook for Sesame Street keeps Americans off the street in his beleaguered economy (n.b.: the poverty rate is at its highest mark in 55 years, even though welfare spending is also at unprecedented levels) .
Mitt Romney is correct to point out that spending is the true cause of the country's fiscal malaise—and while subsidies for public broadcasting may be minute when compared to the overall federal spending spree, the broader theme of the proper size or government is larger than whether or not Big Bird continues to receive his government assistance check.
It's not that Sesame Street or any of other interesting and valuable public broadcasting would disappear under a Romney administration—it's just that a President Romney would expect Big Bird and Jim Lehrer to compete with the private market to continue to provide their product. With "Big Bird" generating more than 17,000 tweets per minute during the debate, it's hard to imagine Sesame Street has to worry about a lack of popularity to keep it afloat.
Mathematics also defy this claim. Most public stations get less than 15 percent of their budgets from the federal government. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting's (PBS's parent organization) own reports show that only three percent of their revenues come from government funding. It is highly unlikely that an organization as successful as PBS could not be restructured to accommodate such a meager cut.
It remains to be seen whether Big Bird is a vote-moving issue for taxpayers. But for those who care about the size of government and the future of the country, the size and role of government certainly will be.
About Mattie Duppler Director of Budget and Regulatory Policy at Americans for Tax Refor
Patrick Butler President and CEO of the Association of Public Television Stations
Michael R. Strain Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Elisabeth Jacobs Fellow at the Brookings Institution.