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Arthur the Aardvark, Democrats plead to keep public media funding

Arthur the Aardvark (front), Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) (left), Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) outside the Capitol Feb. 16.

From NBC's Shawna Thomas
Arthur the Aardvark didn’t need to say anything at the foot of the Capitol today to make sure the cameras showed up. His mere presence was enough to spark the curiosity of the media. The popular PBS children’s character silently stood outside with a goofy grin, flanked by members of Congress, because the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s funding is once again on the chopping block by Republicans. (Here's a First Read history of the fight over funding for public media, courtesy of msnbc.com's Carrie Dann.)

This time the funding has been zeroed out in the Republicans’ continuing resolution that’s being debated on the House Floor. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and other Democrats announced plans to introduce an amendment to add back funding for the CPB and said that this is an ideological fight.

"Is this a fiscal fight or a cultural fight?" asked one reporter.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) answered, "This is an ideological attack on [the] public broadcasting system. Again, it happened in 1995 as soon as they took over the House the last time. It happened after President Bush was elected. This is just part of a reoccurring habit."

Markey then warned his colleagues that voting against the public broadcasting system would be "at their own political peril." He continued, "There's a razor-sharp edge to this issue back home."

While Markey couldn't give a whip count, he seemed optimistic about the prospects of the amendment. However, Blumenauer seemed worried about the lack of moderate Republicans in the House. 

"In the past, we have been successful, because there has been a strong, moderate, thoughtful Republican base of support where we had dozens of people," he said, adding, "There were a number of them that were involved with this and who were upfront, but now there is an undercurrent that is unsettling." 

Sunday, CPB released a statement that read: "We understand the challenges to our economy as a result of increasing budget deficits, but the proposed elimination of funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) will not address this challenge in a meaningful way...proposed action would directly result in cuts to the 1,300 public television and radio stations that provide this service. " The CPB supports more than 1,100 "locally-owned-and-operated public television and radio stations nationwide."

Blumenauer's amendment would put $460 million back into the CBP's budget by taking it away from the "percentage-depletion allowance for oil and gas wells.”

However, due to rules governing how appropriations bills can be written, this amendment will most likely be subject to a point-of-order objection, which would invalidate it.

Blumenauer office's complained about the amendment process in an email: "The way that the rules are written, there is no possible way to offer meaningful amendments in the minority. This is an intentional rule-making trap that the new majority uses to shut out the minority from meaningfully contributing to the discussion."