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Dome Repairs Are Center of Fight

Last year’s intrachamber battles over spending for Congressional operations focused on the Capitol Police and Government Accountability Office budgets; this year’s fight could be over restoring the aging Capitol Dome.

Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, told Roll Call in separate interviews that they were looking for ways to fund the second phase of the Capitol Dome restoration project in their fiscal 2013 spending bill.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch endorsed its own spending bill to fund the operations of Capitol Hill last Friday. That $3.3 billion draft measure would nix the funding necessary for the Architect of the Capitol to move forward on the ambitious and costly initiative to save the Dome from further disrepair after sustaining 150 years of weather damage.

“I don’t know how much different we are from the House’s budget, but we are wrestling with how to do the Dome fix,” Hoeven said. “This is a multi-year project, and we’re looking at getting that funding going.”

“We’re trying to assess whether it’s something that could be deferred or whether that’s something that should be in this budget,” Nelson added, though he has hinted in the past that funding the project is a priority for him.

At the eleventh hour, the AOC received money late last year to begin the first phase of the project, which is ongoing and involves restoring the lower level, or “skirt,” of the structure. The project is on target for completion this fall, in time for scaffolding to be removed for the presidential inaugural in 2013.

But the agency has argued that moving into the second phase — Phase IIA — is critical to preventing the Dome from further deterioration. This stage of the restoration process would involve making repairs to the Dome’s exterior ironwork, columns and decorative ornaments, along with its gutter and its electrical systems.

“[This] will ensure that the elements that make the Capitol Dome unique and iconic will not be lost to time and elements,” Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers wrote in submitted testimony to the House subcommittee earlier this year. “It will also provide [that] the appropriate life-safety systems are in place for the protection of AOC employees charged with the continuous care and maintenance of the Dome.”

The AOC requested $589 million in fiscal 2013 for joint and House-specific line items — an 18.6 percent increase from fiscal 2012.

In the bill put forth last week by House subcommittee chairman Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) and ranking member Mike Honda (D-Calif.), the agency would receive $444 million, 13.4 percent below its fiscal 2012 allocation.

“It’s a matter of priority,” Crenshaw explained. “We’re trying to focus on health and safety issues. … There’s a long list and we can’t do everything.”

But Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, disagreed.

“I’d prefer the Dome remain a monument to our nation’s greatness and not become a symbol for short-sighted austerity,” Dicks said.

While the House bill could be considered by the full panel as early as next week, Nelson and Hoeven did not offer a timetable for consideration in the Senate.

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