Mitt Romney Says 'I Love Big Bird,' But Threatens PBS Funding Cuts in Debate

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A "Daily Show" writer gets his hands on a leaked transcript in advance of the Oct. 3 presidential showdown.

Mitt Romney had plenty of awkward tussles with PBS news anchor and debate moderator Jim Lehrer throughout the first presidential debate on Wednesday, not the least of which came when he said that he wanted to cut federal funding for the veteran news man's long-time network.

In an exchange with President Obama on tightening the federal budget, the GOP nominee for president said that one thing he'd do to save cash is pull the plug on federal support for the Public Broadcasting Service.

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"I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS," Romney said; perhaps realizing Lehrer is employed at the station, he quickly added the caveat, "I like PBS. I like Big Bird. I like you, too."

The Big Bird line -- a reference to Sesame Street, the long-running children's program that has anchored PBS since the 1960s, instantly drew an explosion of commentary and snark on Twitter. PBS became the top trending topic, and multiple parody accounts, such as @SadBigBird, quickly sprang up to milk the line for all it was worth. (Among the tweets: We love everyone. Especially

The federal government spent $444 million on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds PBS and NPR, in fiscal 2012; Romney said earlier this year that he was a fan of its programming, but not its cost.

“Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases," he told Fortune, "but I just think they have to stand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf.”

Back in December of 2011, he said he wanted advertisements on Sesame Street, and promised that he "wouldn't kill Big Bird."