The U.S. budget deficit for February was $223 billion, the largest monthly deficit in history. It was substantially larger than the deficit for the entire 2007 fiscal year ($161 billion).
The current law funding the federal government runs out March 18. And soon the government will bump up against its debt ceiling -- $14.29 trillion, roughly equivalent to the value of all the goods and services produced in the United States last year. So Ron Schiller picked a very bad time to embarrass his employer.
Mr. Schiller was the senior vice president for development for National Public Radio until this story broke:
Mr. Schiller and Betsy Liley, NPR's director of institutional giving, thought they were having lunch at a posh Georgetown restaurant with Ibrahim Kasaam and Amir Malik of the Muslim Education Action Center to discuss a possible $5 million grant to NPR.
Mr. Kasaam and Mr. Malik described MEAC as an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. They said they were considering giving money to NPR, in part because "the Zionist coverage is quite substantial elsewhere."
Mr. Schiller told Mr. Kasaam and Mr. Malik he doesn't find "Zionist or pro-Israel ideas" at NPR. "It's there among those who own newspapers, obviously," he said.
Mr. Schiller also said the tea party movement is dominated by gun-toting racists, and that it has "hijacked" the Republican Party.
We know about the conversation because Mr. Kasaam and Mr. Malik were in reality confederates of conservative film maker James O'Keefe, who posted a videotape of the luncheon online Monday.
NPR rushed out a statement saying it was "appalled" by Mr. Schiller's statements, and to announce that Mr. Schiller had resigned.
I suspect the statement which appalled NPR management most was when Mr. Schiller told the ersatz Arabs that NPR "would be better off in the long run without federal funding."
This contradicted what NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation) said in a speech at the National Press Club Monday: "Taxpayer funding is critical because it allows taxpayers to leverage a small investment into a very large one," she said.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, of which NPR is a part, is slated to receive $432 million from the taxpayers in this fiscal year. About 90 percent of NPR's funding comes from private sources.
House Republicans want to zero out funding for the CPB, which includes spending on public television. The deficit commission President Barack Obama appointed recommended this in December.
But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said government funding for NPR and CPB is "a worthwhile and important priority."
I'd be for terminating the subsidy even if we had all the money in the world and NPR weren't so ideologically biased. NPR listeners and CPB viewers are mostly upper-middle-class people who can afford to pay for their mass media of choice. And a government-funded news organization isn't a news organization. It's a propaganda outlet.
If ever there were a rationale for the subsidy, it expired long ago. The CPB was established in 1967 when the federal government was flush and the only other viewing choices were the three broadcast networks. Thanks to cable television and satellite radio, the argument that only government can provide niche programming is now preposterous.
To defend that subsidy when the government is drowning in red ink indicates Democrats aren't serious about the fiscal crisis. We have to make painful cuts to stave off catastrophe. It should be obvious that frivolous expenditures must go, too.
But it isn't obvious to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Republicans are "mean-spirited," he said, because they want to cut federal funding for the arts. His example: a cowboy poetry festival that's held each year in northern Nevada.
The last fiscal year for which Republicans were completely responsible for the budget was 2007, when there was a $161 billion deficit. The next two years, with a Republican president and a Democratic Congress, the deficits hit $438 billion and $1.4 trillion. The deficit rose to $1.42 trillion in the first year in which Democrats were entirely responsible for the budget and is projected this year to reach $1.48 trillion.
If America falls off the fiscal cliff, it'll be clear which party pushed us.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio ( firstname.lastname@example.org , 412 263-1476).