Debate Club

Sacrifice PBS in Favor of Healthcare and Defense Spending

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It is of course correct that PBS constitutes a tiny share of federal expenditures. But is the share too large?

I grew up on Seasame Street. (Though Big Bird wasn't my favorite.) I watch Charlie Rose. I like NOVA, and I watch the PBS Newshour quite regularly. PBS even helped cultivate my love of Mr. Bruce Springsteen and his mighty E Street Band by airing their old concerts.

But as a nation we must confront the cold, hard reality of our fiscal situation. For a long time it was believed that the government could provide guns and butter, but that providing more of one meant providing less of the other. In the parlance of economists, government maximized subject to constraints. Well, over the last decade or so we have paid a lot less attention to living within our means. At the end of the 2002 fiscal year public debt was about one third of GDP—today it is close to 75 percent. For the past four years the government of the United States spent one trillion dollars more than it took in.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

Cuts to basic functions of government—providing a safety net for the poor and defending the shore—are looming. What's more, both parties agree that Medicare spending needs to be curtailed. Taxes paid to the federal government are expected to rise to one fifth of national income in the coming years. That's a lot of money being given to the government by hardworking Americans.

Should we take a dollar from anti-poverty programs to fund Seasame Street? Should we take a dollar from defense to subsidize Charlie Rose? Should we cut back on healthcare for middle-class seniors to fund the Newshour? Should we ask hardworking Americans to contribute even more of their income to help people discover the legendary E Street Band? Should we borrow more money from China so PBS can continue to air This Old House?

The answer seems clear. And, truth be told, sacrificing PBS funding should be among the easiest choices we have to make. If you think it's hard to cut funding for public broadcasting, imagine how hard it will be to reform Medicare.

Michael R. Strain

About Michael R. Strain Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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television

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PBS Epitomizes Liberal Elite

Yes – PBS Epitomizes Liberal Elite

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