By Emma Dumain
Roll Call Staff
Despite efforts by a bipartisan cadre of Senators, money to continue repairs on the aging Capitol Dome is not included in the six-month stopgap funding measure slated for passage this week.
And some lawmakers say House Republicans are to blame.
"If the House wants the Dome to fall in, I hope it falls on their side," said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.
The Architect of the Capitol says it needs $61 million to move into the second phase of restoring the historic structure, which after 150 years of weather damage suffers from at least 1,300 known cracks that threaten its structural integrity. Some lawmakers say the longer it takes for the money to come through the pipeline, the more money the project will cost and the more dangerous conditions will become.
It's a sentiment shared by most Senators on the Appropriations Committee, which at its markup of the fiscal 2013 legislative branch spending bill last month voted 26-3 on an amendment to allocate the necessary funds. Nelson was at first averse to including the money in the bill but told Roll Call on Tuesday he now supports giving the AOC what it needs to fix the Capitol Dome in the short term.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which oversees Capitol grounds, has also become a champion of the cause and says the AOC can't wait six months, when lawmakers will have another opportunity to pass a bill funding government operations.
"There is a time and a place to debate federal spending and the proper role of government, but most Americans believe that when your house has a leaky roof, you pay to fix that roof," Schumer wrote on Aug. 27 in a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), imploring him to use his influence to include the funding.
But the House-passed fiscal 2013 legislative branch appropriations bill did not include Phase 2 Dome restoration money, with House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch Chairman Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) citing the reality of financial constraints in a tough budget environment at the time of passage.
So if it was already a hard enough sell to secure a new funding priority in a continuing resolution meant to be as free of policy riders as possible, it was even more of a challenge for Senators to convince their House counterparts to green-light an extra $61 million they hadn't wanted in the first place.
"In order to ensure that the CR was 'clean' as possible, many important funding items had to be left out. This is exactly why it's essential to pass regular Appropriations bills," said Jennifer Hing, spokeswoman for House Appropriations Committee Republicans, regarding the decision not to include the money despite the Senate's request.
"The Dome project will go forward and will not be significantly affected by a six-month delay in appropriated funding," Hing continued. "In fact, the first phase of the project is still under way, and the AOC has been instructed to make preparations and begin the initial administrative process for the next phase."
House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch ranking member Mike Honda (D-Calif.) said that while the Dome "shouldn't be a partisan issue ... the original schedule didn't have the AOC starting until February, so we don't foresee a major disruption in the timeline with a six-month [continuing resolution]."
Some parties, however, are bitter about House Republican appropriators' position.
"Republicans like to wave flags, but the bottom line is we have an 18-million-pound structure teetering over the Congress and tourists, and the Republican leadership is refusing to lift a finger," a senior Democratic aide said.
Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith insisted that the Speaker is "fully committed to repairing the Capitol Dome."
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