The battle to fix the leaking Capitol dome appeared to be winding down under the assumption that a must-pass continuing resolution would be approved in September without restoration funds. But in a letter to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio on Monday, Senate Rules Chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., asked that "an exception be made for the sake of an urgent bit of housekeeping."
The project would require a $61 million commitment in fiscal year 2013 for a four-year effort to begin after the presidential inauguration in January. The nearly 150-year-old dome has more than 1,300 cracks, which have loosened ornaments and allowed water damage inside the Capitol.
The House did not include restoration funds in its 2013 legislative branch appropriation but Senate appropriators did. The discrepancy is largely symbolic, however, because Congress is expected to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government funded at mostly current levels before the new fiscal year starts Oct 1. Such a CR would delay or perhaps cancel the project--something that Schumer says cannot be allowed to happen.
"The Capitol's dome is a monument to our nation's representative democracy," Schumer wrote. "It would be a national embarrassment if partisan gridlock allowed this iconic work of architecture to fall into a state of permanent decay."
Partisan gridlock was absent from the Senate's debate over the measure. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., sponsored an amendment with Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., to include funding in the Senate's legislative branch appropriation.
Hoeven, who led National Journal on a tour of the dome, called it a "symbol of democracy to the United States and to the entire world," and worked to keep the legislative budget at House-approved levels while finding funding for dome repairs.
When the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee decided against funding the dome in June, Chairman Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla. said the project was not an immediate safety concern.
"We give priority to those [projects] that deal with health and safety issues," Crenshaw said.
Crenshaw added that he was confident that his subcommittee would find the funds "very shortly" to complete the dome's renovation.