By Wendell Marsh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives voted Thursday to end federal funding for National Public Radio, following recent controversies that entangled some of the organization's senior executives.
Republicans said the move, which passed by a vote of 228-192, was motivated by the need to cut spending in the face of a record federal budget deficit.
Democrats argued the bill was a thinly veiled ideological attack on an institution that some Republicans have long criticized for what they see as its liberal bias.
The measure's prospects beyond the Republican-led House appear doubtful as Democrats control the Senate and President Barack Obama, who opposed the bill, could veto it.
NPR, which has about 27 million listeners, was shaken last week when its chief executive, Vivian Schiller, resigned after the organization's chief fund-raiser was secretly videotaped making disparaging remarks about members of the conservative Tea Party movement and questioning whether NPR needed government funding.
The organization also aroused the anger of conservative media and Republican critics last year when it abruptly fired news analyst Juan Williams after he made controversial comments about Muslims.
Only about 2 percent of NPR's budget comes from the federal government. But its member stations are heavily reliant on funding from federal and state governments.
NPR said it was concerned about the impact the bill would have on the entire public radio system.
"The bill is a direct effort to weaken public radio that would ultimately choke local stations' ability to serve their audiences," NPR said in a statement. "Many small-budget stations would be placed in a serious financial bind."
Under the House-passed bill, affiliate stations could not use federal funds to pay for NPR-produced programs or member dues. Republicans said the measure would save up to $60 million a year.
"It's called tightening the belt," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said on the floor. "It's time to reflect the common sense of the American people."
Democratic defenders of NPR said many of its programs had little or no ideological content, and that conservative and Republican criticism was less about making its political tone balanced than tilting it to the right.
"My colleagues should consider the studies that show NPR listeners are more aware of indisputable facts than listeners of most other news sources. ... Where's the political bias?" asked Democratic Representative Mike Doyle.
(Reporting by Wendell Marsh; Editing by Peter Cooney and Todd Eastham)