Mr. Diaz-Balart Goes to Washington

When an unsuspecting Colorado congressman tries to cut funding to Radio and TV Martí, the freshman lawmaker gives a taste of exile politics, Miami-style

For the time being, though, gazing out at all those empty chairs, David Skaggs wasn't concerned with what everybody else was going to think. He just needed to say what he had to say, needed to search for some semblance of reason at the end of what had turned out to be a terribly irrational day.

MR. SKAGGS: Mr. Speaker, I wanted to address the House on a matter that has really been brought to the public's attention through a press release that was put out earlier today by the Cuban American National Foundation with respect to events that occurred in the House and debate and action earlier this afternoon on the appropriations bill for fiscal 1994 for the commerce, justice, state department and the judiciary, and I need to set some background in getting into the real subject matter this evening.

As we are all quite well aware, this is a very difficult budget year for us to work in. We are faced with an absolute cap on discretionary spending, less next year than this year, and so on for the next five years. Each of the appropriations subcommittees, therefore, has really been put to the test of trying to prioritize, find places to save money, identify lower priority programs so that we are able to shift funds to programs that we feel are more vital to the national interest.

In connection with going through the programs within the jurisdiction of the commerce, justice, state subcommittee on which I am a member. I looked at a whole range of potential areas for reductions in spending and came up with a total of about $200 million that I proposed in cuts so that we could accomplish our mission this year under the limits of the Budget Act.

Among the cuts that I proposed to my colleagues on the subcommittee were the funds that had been tentatively identified for Radio Martí and TV Martí broadcast services financed by the United States Government directed at Cuba.

It is really the issue of funding for Radio and TV Martí that prompted the events that I want to address from earlier today. I think it is important, first of all, to establish some of the reasons that it seemed to me that both of these programs were reasonable candidates for elimination, so that we might have more FBI agents or have more efforts made in applied technology or a whole range of other programs that were otherwise going to be shorted more than they already are in the Commerce, Justice, State bill.

TV Martí, very briefly, [is] a particularly dubious program that was being broadcast through a tethered balloon down off the Florida Keys into Cuba, only able to be broadcast between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., the signal being jammed fairly effectively most of the time by the Cuban Government. We were broadcasting on a channel that was allocated to Havana television. Legitimate questions were raised because of our membership in the International Telecommunications Union whether or not we were in violation of international telecommunications requirements in conducting this activity.

It was very expensive per program hour. To top it all off, the programming really was of a very questionable standard, things like, I am told: Popeye cartoons and the Lives of the Rich and Famous, things that probably are not going to make a great deal of difference in an informed political climate in Cuba.

So that was one program I proposed for elimination in subcommittee. My colleagues went along with the suggestion.

They also agreed to eliminate funding for Radio Martí. Let me just again lay a little bit of the groundwork as to why the several million dollars that were proposed for Radio Martí also struck me as a very likely candidate for reductions in funding, given this very difficult budget year we are in .

First of all, it costs too much. The National Association of Broadcasters reports, for instance, that the average commercial radio station in large markets in this country spends about five million dollars a year. Radio Martí, on the other hand, was spending over $20 million a year. Even at the reduced level that was ultimately suggested by the full Committee on Appropriations last week, we would be paying double the private sector standard for the broadcasts going out of Radio Martí.

Its 1994 budget contains a number of seemingly excessive or unnecessary expenses. For instance, some $300,000 for talent involved in panel discussions and commentaries. Certainly by my experience I think most of us know that most reputable commercial news agencies do not have to pay for guests or interviews.

Some eight million dollars for its employees. With some 150 employees, that is an average salary and benefits of over $50,000 a year. And $342,000 for audience research. With the audience in Cuba, it is questionable, it seems to me, how you are practically able to apply those funds to that purpose. Close to one million dollars for technical operations, for which the average radio station in this country pays some $40,000 a year. I wonder why Radio Martí needs to spend so much for a transmitter! A transmitter is a transmitter, regardless of where it is broadcasting. Even on a percentage kind of calculation, Radio Martí's engineering costs were extraordinarily high.

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