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The Capitol Dome Is Cracked, Leaking, And Congress Can’t Agree How To Pay To Fix It

The Capitol Dome is cracking, and Congress isn’t doing much about it:

WASHINGTON — To the myriad indignities suffered by Congress, including stagnant legislation, partisan warfare and popularity on a par with petty criminals, add this: the Capitol’s roof is leaking, and there is no money to fix it.

The Capitol dome, the nation’s grandest symbol of federal authority, has been dinged by years of inclement weather, and its exterior is in need of repair.

The dome has 1,300 known cracks and breaks. Water that has seeped in over the years has caused rusting on the ornamentation and staining on the interior of the Rotunda, just feet below the fresco “The Apotheosis of Washington,” which is painted on the Rotunda’s canopy.

Like most of what the federal government is on the hook to fix — highways, bridges and airports — the dome is imperiled both by tough economic times and by a politically polarized Congress. While Senate appropriators have voted to repair the dome, which has not undergone major renovations for 50 years, their House counterparts say there is not money right now. In that way, the dome is a metaphor for the nation’s decaying infrastructure.

“The dome needs comprehensive rehabilitation,” said Stephen T. Ayers, the architect of the Capitol, whose office oversees the building’s physical state. “It’s a public safety issue.”

The skirt of the dome — the section around the base of the original sandstone foundation — was fixed up recently at a cost of about $20 million, but an additional $61 million is needed to repair and restore the rest of the structure’s exterior.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted just before Congress left for its August recess to provide the money.

“I support funding the Capitol dome,” said Senator John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota, who voted against an appropriations bill because it did not include money for the dome. (The money was included moments later in an amendment, which passed with Mr. Hoeven’s vote.)

The appropriators in the Republican-controlled House are starting with a smaller overall budget for the 2013 fiscal year than the Democratic-controlled Senate, and they want to finance much of the government’s operations at lower levels.

Senate leaders have decided that it would be too difficult to reconcile the two appropriations bills, as is normally done, until after the election.

That means Congress will have to pass a short-term spending bill — the sort that set off the fight that almost shut down the government last year — and it most likely will not include more money for repairs.

“This is not a ‘bridge to nowhere’ we’re talking about here,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the leader of the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees the architect’s office. “This is basic upkeep to the United States Capitol building. There is a time and place to debate spending levels and the proper role of the federal government, but when your house has a leaky roof, you pay to fix the roof.”

Call it a metaphor for everything that is wrong with American politics, I suppose.

Photo via Wikipedia

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Rome burns, the collective Neros fiddly. It would be a fitting sort of justice if the damn thing collapsed while they were in session.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  2. rudderpedals says:

    Am I the only one who remembers the dome encased in scaffolding for what seemed like 10 years in the 80s? What was that about?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  3. @rudderpedals: I recall there being scaffolding around the dome in the 1990s when I visited twice. I know that they restored the statue on the top of the dome. I suppose that the other work was the skirting repairs noted in the article?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. al-Ameda says:

    Sane:

    The Senate Appropriations Committee voted just before Congress left for its August recess to provide the money. “I support funding the Capitol dome,” said Senator John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota, who voted against an appropriations bill because it did not include money for the dome. (The money was included moments later in an amendment, which passed with Mr. Hoeven’s vote.)

    Insane:
    blockquote> The appropriators in the Republican-controlled House are starting with a smaller overall budget for the 2013 fiscal year than the Democratic-controlled Senate, and they want to finance much of the government’s operations at lower levels.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  5. Tano says:

    Call it a metaphor for everything that is wrong with American politics, I suppose.

    The roof leaks. The Democrats want to fix it. The Republicans don’t.

    I agree with you Doug – this perfectly encapsulates what is wrong with American politics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  6. Loviatar says:

    @Tano:

    The roof leaks. The Democrats want to fix it. The Republicans don’t. Useless, lying pundits then blame both sides for not fixing leak.

    FIFY

    ===============

    I’m glad I’m not the only who noticed how Doug blamed “Congress” even though it is the Republican led House of Representatives who’ve blocked any attempts to fix the problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  7. al-Ameda says:

    @Loviatar:

    I’m glad I’m not the only who noticed how Doug blamed “Congress” even though it is the Republican led House of Representatives who’ve blocked any attempts to fix the problem.

    “Both sides do it.” That is is, both sides know there’s a problem.

    Status:

    One side (Democrats + a small group of sane Republicans) wants to fix the problem and appropriate funds to do so, the other side (primarily House Republicans) wants to jam their own fingers down their own throats and projectile vomit on any plan to fix the problem.

    So, in conclusion, it’s really hard to know which side can’t agree on how to pay to fix the problem, isn’t it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  8. HAHA says:

    If this were a company operating out of the building, and it comes to this, two things happen.

    1 – They get a dollar amount needed and they cut their employee benefits to stay afloat while the repairs go forward. Without the building, they can’t employee anyone. Dedicated employees understand, although aren’t happy – but they keep their jobs and cut back their spendings at home.

    2 – They close down becuase they don’t have the ability to use money that doesn’t exist in the frickin’ world. No bank would give them a loan with their financial score!!!!

    So – screw the fancy paintings. If they have to be covered to make the building sound, so be it. Maybe in a better economic time, someone can paint a new mural!

    I know I can’t afford the lifetime shingles to be installed on my house………. I’m looking at the stuff of the shelf and doing the work myself. Lead the US the way most of us are having to live our lives……………. Such a@@holes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2