The dome of the Capitol is leaking and House Republicans refuse to appropriate money to repair "the nation's grandest symbol of federal authority", the New York Times reports.
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 Capitol needs $61 million to repair its exterior. There are 1,300 cracks and breaks in the dome. Water is seeping into the structure, which has rusted the cast iron ornamentation and stained the interior of the Rotunda.
The disrepair of our Capitol is more than just a metaphor. "It's a public safety issue," said Stephen Ayers, the architect of the Capitol. The architect's office oversees the building and many pieces of ornamentation have been removed from the dome for safety reasons.
"At least 100 pieces of the dome have fallen off or been removed, including a 40-pound cast-iron decorative acorn." Imagine what a chunk of falling cast iron would do if it were to land on the head of someone working or visiting the Capitol.
“When you have those conditions on the outside,” said Mr. Ayers, the Capitol’s architect, “it really accelerates deterioration on the inside,” including possible damage to the fresco, which is painted on plaster.The fresco is "The Apotheosis of Washington" that is just feet below where the Rotunda is already stained by water damage.
The Senate has tried to speed along the repair process, but have been blocked by the Republican-led House. Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and John Hoeven (R-ND), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, have made sure their committee provided funding for repair work before they left on August recess. House Republicans, however, "want to finance much of the government’s operations at lower levels" and refuse to allocate funds to fix the Capitol.
"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," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said.
Without House cooperation, Senate leaders think the differences between the Senate and House budgets will not be resolved until after the November election at the earliest.
The lack of funding for repair work is a concern for architects and engineers not involved with the project too, the National Journal reports. If the repair work is delayed, it will become more expensive to fix the Capitol building.
“The rule of thumb is that the cost of deferring maintenance is 15 times more when [something] does break,” said Andrew Goldberg of the American Institute of Architects.
If repair work begins by February 2013, planers hope the four-year project will be completed by 2017 in time for the presidential inauguration.
Much of our national infrastructure is in desperate need of repair or overhaul. August marks the five-year anniversary of the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which killed 13 people and injured 145 others.
Will House Republicans condemn our nation's Capitol to the same fate of the doomed I-35W bridge? Apparently yes, since it means shrinking federal spending and preventing needed jobs being created during the Obama presidency.
Last September, President Barack Obama spoke beside a decaying bridge between Ohio and Kentucky to call attention to the nation's decaying national infrastructure and that American jobs can be created by repairing and fixing it.
"Part of the reason I came here is because Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell, those are the two most powerful Republicans in government. They can either kill this jobs bill, or they can help pass this jobs bill," Obama said.
I can’t imagine that the Speaker wants to represent a state where nearly one in four bridges are classified as substandard -- one in four. I know that when Senator McConnell visited the closed bridge in Kentucky, he said that, “Roads and bridges are not partisan in Washington.” That’s great. I know that Paul Ryan, the Republican in charge of the budget process, recently said that "you can’t deny that infrastructure does creates jobs." That's what he said.Republicans killed the president's job bill last November and funding "that would have provided $60 billion for funding transportation projects and seeded a new infrastructure bank". Instead, Republicans pushed an alternative that would not have created jobs. Their proposal was "not even remotely serious."
Well, if that’s the case, there’s no reason for Republicans in Congress to stand in the way of more construction projects. There’s no reason to stand in the way of more jobs.
Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge. Help us rebuild America. Help us put construction workers back to work.
"Republicans in Congress are the only thing that is preventing these measures from putting more Americans back to work right now," wrote Jeffrey Liebman, an economic policy advisor for the Obama campaign, in the Wall Street Journal. "If Mitt Romney really wanted to get job growth going, he would tell his Republican colleagues to stop blocking the president's proposals."
Analysis by the Center for American Progress estimated "that an additional $129.2 billion a year in new capital investment is warranted over the next 10 years." That would make the minimum national investment to be $262.1 billion annually to keep maintained the national infrastructure.
"By ratcheting up infrastructure investment by $129.2 billion per year, sizable job-creation gains will be realized." The Department of Transportation estimated in 2007 that with every $1 billion in highway expenditures come 27,800 jobs and Moody’s Analytics, "found in 2011 that new federal spending for infrastructure improvements to highways and public schools would generate $1.44 of economic activity for each $1 spent," CAP reported.
In the Washington Post, Ezra Kline wrote the inability of Congress to pass needed infrastructure funding is an "embarrassment".
This is a bad time to do a half-measure on infrastructure. We have literally trillions of dollars in unmet infrastructure needs. We have massive unemployment in the construction sector. Materials are unusually cheap because of a depressed global economy. Borrowing is unusually cheap because we're one of the few safe havens left in the global financial market. And it's cheaper to [repair] an aging bridge today than rebuild a crumbled one 10 years from now.The time to put Americans to work fixing the country is long past due. President Obama has a jobs and infrastructure plan to get it done. The Republicans have the Ryan-Romney fudget plan, which would cut the taxes for the wealthiest Americans, increase Pentagon spending, but cut all other federal spending. "It would leave nothing for infrastructure," The Atlantic observed. Republicans would rather watch the Capitol's dome crumble into rust than put Americans back to work fixing our nation's infrastructure.