The vote by House Republicans Thursday to strip National Public Radio of much of its federal funding is an early example of the ways in which narrow issues are likely to repeatedly distract lawmakers during the upcoming 2012 election season.
Republicans have put more emphasis on spending cuts, while Democrats have put their focus on job creation, but leaders of both parties in both chambers of Congress have declared themselves committed to addressing the nation's biggest economic challenges: reducing the spiraling deficits and debt, bringing down unemployment, addressing the long-term health of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
And yet, the closer that Washington moves toward full-blown election season, the greater appetite both sides will have for small, symbolic issues that appeal to their base voters than the tougher action on big, thorny issues.
The NPR debate is a classic case.
The public radio organization gets a trivial amount of money from the federal government, about $5.4 million a year. Most of its $65 million budget comes from fees that local stations pay for its programming.
As if the Times would cover with any sense of balance  the conservative approach to "big, thorny issues" like cutting the costs of Social Security.
Shear admitted that recent scandals had "called into question the organization's objectivity." Yet he quoted three NPR supporters, two Democratic congressmen and President Obama, versus only one Republican congressman in opposition. Shear treated the White House's partisan response as common sense:
....In an official statement of administration policy before the House vote, the White House made its position clear.The White House's "rural scarcity" argument may have made sense in the 1950s, but sounds retrograde in the age of near-ubiquitous cable television and the Internet.
"Undercutting funding for these radio stations, notably ones in rural areas where such outlets are already scarce, would result in communities losing valuable programming, and some stations could be forced to shut down altogether," the statement said.
Which raises the question that several supporters of NPR raised Thursday during the bill's debate. Why spend time debating a measure that make no substantial dent in the nation's fiscal challenges?