WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney pledged to cut spending for public television while campaigning in Iowa on Wednesday, saying that Big Bird should be supported by advertisements and that the arts will need to get more private donations to stay afloat.
"We're not going to kill Big Bird," Romney said on Wednesday afternoon during a campaign stop in Clinton, Iowa. The former Massachusetts governor made the promise while touting his plans to drastically cut federal spending, under which he would slash $500 billion dollars a year from the budget by the end of his first term.
But while America's favorite seven-foot-tall bird would survive under Romney, he'll probably acquire some baggage. Romney stressed the need to cut even popular programs and singled out the National Endowment for the Arts and the Public Broadcasting Corporation as entities that would have to seek private funding in a Romney administration.
"Big Bird is going to have advertisements, all right?" said Romney. "And we're going to have endowments for the arts and humanities, but they're going to be paid for by private charity, not by taxpayers."
Romney justified his call for spending cuts in terms of stark realpolitik: "My test is, is a program so critical that it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?" But despite this new reasoning, his proposal is just the latest attempt in the long-running GOP drive to defund public broadcasting.
Public broadcasting and the arts have been in Republicans' crosshairs for decades. In March, Republican senators proposed legislation to cut all federal funds for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is the parent organization of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR).
This followed a GOP attempt in the House in February to slash the CPB's funding in the continuing resolution.
"The GOP should be less preoccupied with silencing cookie monster and more focused on reviving the economy," replied Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) at the time. In 1995, she invited popular "Sesame Street" characters Bert and Ernie to testify on Capitol Hill when Republicans, under then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, tried to eliminate funding for public broadcasting.
The public broadcasting funds represent a minuscule portion of the federal budget. The Congressional Budget Office said this year that eliminating NPR's $5 million in federal funds from the budget would have "no effect."