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Senate Adds Dome Restoration Funding

Breaking from their House counterparts, Senate appropriators today voted to add an additional $61.3 million to the legislative branch spending bill for fiscal 2013 to allow the Architect of the Capitol to continue restoring the aging Capitol Dome.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) proposed the funding increase in an amendment to the bill originally slated at $4.2 billion — 0.6 percent below fiscal 2012 levels and 5 percent below agencies’ requests. It passed 26-3.

At a time when lawmakers in both chambers are feeling pressured to cut spending, the bipartisan campaign to fund the next phase of the Dome restoration project signals a sense of urgency.

“In order to hold down the overall cost of the bill, both the House and our [legislative branch] subcommittee did not include funding for this emergency requirement,” Inouye said at the committee markup. “While I appreciate the subcommittee’s effort to minimize total funding in the bill, Senator Cochran and I agree that the committee cannot ignore this problem.”

“The reason we need to move now is, if we wait longer … it’s going to get more and more expensive,” Cochran added.

The AOC argues that Congress must fund the next phase of restoration to the aging Capitol Dome, which continues to deteriorate after 150 years of weather damage.

The agency received money at the eleventh hour to complete the first stage of fixes that focused on the Dome’s lower level, or skirt. Fiscal 2013 funding would allow repairs to the Dome’s exterior ironwork, columns and decorative ornaments, along with its gutter and electrical systems.

Republican House appropriators, in advancing their own fiscal 2013 legislative branch spending bill earlier this year, said there simply wasn’t the money available to fund the next stage of repairs.

It was not a move supported by many House Democrats: “I’d prefer the Dome remain a monument to our nation’s greatness and not become a symbol for short-sighted austerity,” said House Appropriations ranking member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.).

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, agreed that despite efforts to shift resources, identifying the dollars proved untenable.

But Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, said he had identified a way to include the funding within the bill’s original $4.2 billion topline. He was so disappointed that Nelson had not agreed to the suggestion that he, along with seven of his colleagues, voted against advancing his own legislation.

“I know it’s a $61 million project, but that covers four years of funding,” Hoeven said. “I think we need to do it, and I will vote [for the amendment] to support the Capitol Dome … but it should’ve been in this baseline budget.”

With House and Senate leadership in agreement to pass a six-month continuing resolution in September rather than risk a government shutdown at the start of fiscal 2013, it’s unclear how any of the funding levels agreed to by legislative branch appropriators will play out.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, said that the stopgap measure makes securing funding for Dome restoration a sticky prospect.

“I had always hoped we could find the money at some point, whether it was for fiscal 2013 or before we reached fiscal 2014,” Crenshaw said.