The 0.014 percent solution

[Edited to correct the English-major arithmetic of the original. &$@%.]

So CNN/Opinion Research asked Americans how much they think the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — the nonprofit that helps fund National Public Radio and PBS television — receives in federal funding, as a percentage of the federal budget. Most people responded that they thought it was between 1 and 5 percent of the federal budget.

That’s a little bit off. Last year, the CPB actually received about $506 million in taxpayer money. That’s 0.00014 0.014 percent of the federal budget — far less than about 1 percent of 1 percent.

It’s tempting to chalk up that poll response to innumeracy and ignorance, but that would be blaming the victim. Most Americans believe that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting represents a meaningful, significant chunk of the federal budget because they have been told that it does by their representatives in Congress.

Which is to say they have been misinformed. Deliberately. Lied to. Which is to say that members of Congress have been lying about funding for the CPB, NPR, PBS, etc.

National Public Radio actually received fewer federal dollars last year than Jerry Falwell’s private conservative sectarian college, Liberty University.

Republicans in Congress made a big deal out of their efforts to defund the CPB, pretending that this was a mighty blow for deficit reduction. They pretended this because they’re actually not very interested in deficit reduction, just in pretending they’re worried about it, and this seemed like an easy target where they could pretend to be accomplishing something while actually accomplishing nothing.

OK, not quite nothing — but it’s just easier to round down when you’re dealing with 0.00014 percent.

This is what “deficit hawks” do in Washington — they have big fights over tiny percentages. Witness the Shutdown Showdown Theater of the past week, a high-stakes battle with the threat of shutting down the government over the difference between whether the budget for the remainder of the fiscal year would be cut by 0.975 percent or merely by 0.925 percent.

America has a short-term budget problem due to unemployment. American has a long-term budget problem due to the increasing cost of health care. Anyone talking about debt and deficits who is not talking foremost about jobs and health-care costs is either grossly misinformed or lying to you. Period.

Consider the other big component of last week’s Shutdown Showdown Theater — the effort to defund Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood — a major source of health care for working class women in this country — receives a portion of federal Title X grants, somewhere between a tenth and a fourth of that funding.

Title X grants last year totaled about $317 million. That’s about 0.0000917 0.00917 percent of the federal budget.

None of that fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of this funding went to provide abortions. The Hyde Amendment has been law for decades. (Oddly, the same members of Congress who vote to ensure that the Hyde Amendment remains law are the ones who love to pretend it doesn’t exist — railing against “federal funding for abortion” as though they didn’t realize no such funding exists because it would be illegal under the Hyde Amendment.)

Yet Congressional Republicans spent the week pretending two things that were not true: 1) That cutting Title X funding would make a significant difference in the federal budget, and 2) That this had something to do with abortion.

Here is Republican Senate Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, saying something that is utterly not true:

“If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood,” Republican Senate Whip Jon Kyl said on the Senate floor Thursday morning. “That’s well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”

Not true. Not even close to being true.

Here is what Planned Parenthood does:

And as Ezra Klein notes: “Planned Parenthood itself estimates it prevents more than 620,000 unintended pregnancies each year, and 220,000 abortions.”

They also help prevent a great deal of expensive-to-treat-if-not-prevented preventable diseases. So the idea of “cutting spending” by eliminating Title X funding is about as smart as trying to save on your car maintenance by never getting your oil changed.

During last week’s theatrics, the Anti-Kitten Burning Coalition in the House of Representatives also tried to go after any funding for the United Nations Population Fund, claiming that this would prevent the Satanic baby-killers of Nicolae Carpathia’s UN from using that money for abortions.

Spearheading this effort was Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, who already knows everything you’re about to read below, but likes to pretend he doesn’t already know this. Mark Leon Goldberg tells the story:

A so-called rider attached to a budget proposal by House Republicans would eliminate U.S. funding for the United Nations Population Fund … out of a mistaken belief that UNFPA supports abortion.  …

Sarah Craven of the United Nations Population Fund … reiterated that UNFPA does not fund abortions.  After all, she said, UNFPA is a part of the UN–and there are several UN members states in which abortion is still illegal.  Beyond that, UNFPA’s steering document specifically excludes abortion as a method of family planning under UNFPA’s mandate. If that were not enough to convince you that U.S. funds to UNFPA does not go toward promoting or conducting abortion, the U.S. Congress has passed several pieces of legislation since the 1970s specifically stipulating that no U.S. funds can in anyway support abortion overseas.

Still, several members of Congress–most notably Chris Smith of New Jersey–are somehow convinced that UNFPA promotes abortion. Specifically, they are concerned that UNFPA abets China’s one child policy. This is false, but you don’t have to take my word for it. In 2001, the Bush White House sent a fact finding team to investigate UNFPA in China and found, “no evidence that UNFPA has supported or participated in the management of a programme of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in China.”

… UNFPA is forbidden by its own founding documents and its own members to support abortion. Beyond that, there are several pieces of U.S. legislation stipulating that American funding for UNFPA cannot be used for the abortion services it does not provide.  Beyond that, U.S. funding goes into a separate account so that Congress can deduct funds for money that UNFPA spends in China, evidently not in support forced sterilization.

What the UNFPA actually does is promote maternal and infant health around the world, particularly in the poorest developing nations. If the evil conspiracy of Satanic baby killers that Rep. Christopher Smith imagines himself a crusader against really did exist, then that conspiracy would celebrate and support his efforts to defund UNFPA.

Oh, and how much funding are we talking about there? Last year, the U.S. contribution to UNFPA was about $50 million. That’s about a tenth of what the Corporation for Public Broadcasting got, so I guess that’d be around 0.000014 0.0014 percent.

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  • On the topic of PBS and funding: Mr Rogers in front of the Senate in ’69.

    I didn’t watch Mr Rogers as a kid, but I kinda miss him.

  • Death before dishonour, nothing before coffee: I totally read that as “should have an icepick available” and physically cringed.

  • Trevor Wildman

    I believe the president laters sums up the incident with something like “I almost got the bill passed in exchange for $100,000 and the First Amendment”.

  • Anonymous

    Buffalo is around 260,000 people, within the city limits; the suburbs bring the number up around 600,000 or maybe even a million (if I believe Wikipedia).

  • Hawker40

    Ow. Ow. Ow.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    “I believe the president laters sums up the incident with something like ‘I almost got the bill passed in exchange for $100,000 and the First Amendment’.”
    Depending on who exactly does it, couldn’t a study on the medical effects of prayer be considered legitimate science?

  • Hawker40

    On a related note, today the House of Reps voted (party line vote, all Democrats voted against) to destroy Medicare and give the wealthy more tax cuts. And, for even more fun, if this bill became law (it won’t) it would increase the deficit.
    “It isn’t class warfare if the rich do it to the poor.”

  • Callousdisregard

    Ya’ll are full of it.
    The reason people want to defund NPR and PP is because of what they do, not how much they cost.
    You have no sympathy for the “tea baggers” ?
    Who cares ? Who asked for your pseudo-sympathy ? When you insult people you don’t know, does it make you feel powerful ? popular ?
    I know from the perspective of an atheist libertarian it makes you look like a fool, at best.
    You claim that “you can’t break through willful ignorance” as you spout nothing but and then you wonder why people treat you as they do ?
    NPR is a leftist outlet and I don’t think tax dollars should support it, regardless of how much it actually costs.
    Most poor women do NOT get their medical care @ PP, they get abortions and then people much smarter than you juggle the numbers to pretend that they do most of their work in healthcare.
    If you feel killing unborn children with no due process is a good idea, then stand up and say so, don’t hide behind rhetoric and outright BS.

  • Anonymous

    I think Callousdisregard’s username says all we need to know.