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Hoeven, Architect Signal Optimism on Dome Restoration

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said he had the option of trading in his ranking member slot on the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee for a more prestigious leadership role on the broader panel.

But while subcommittee assignments haven’t been made official, Hoeven told CQ Roll Call he expects to stay on as the top Republican overseeing the smallest of the 12 annual appropriations bills, which funds the operations of Congress.

It’s because, he said, he wants to help secure funding to move into phase two of restoring the aging Capitol Dome, a pet project he took on in the 112th Congress during his first two years in office.

Hoeven also said he’s already working behind the scenes to make the money available, perhaps as early as the end of March, when the current stopgap spending measure expires and new legislation is needed to float the government through the remainder of fiscal 2013.

“It is not a done deal yet,” Hoeven said in an interview last week. “We’ve been working on it and building bipartisan support and recognition that it needs to get done.

“I want to see it through,” he continued, suggesting the reality that the funds might not come through until the start of fiscal 2014.

But the Architect of the Capitol also is signaling that an agreement to fund the project may be imminent. Last week, it began the formal process of soliciting bids for contractors to oversee the second phase of repairing the historic structure that is deteriorating after 150 years of weather damage and under the duress of at least 1,300 known cracks.

Justin Kieffer, a senior communications specialist working on the Capitol Dome restoration project with the AOC, would not confirm what sorts of conversations were going on that might have prompted the agency to take the bold initiative to start the contracting process.

“We are confident that the work will be funded at Congress’ earliest convenience,” Kieffer said. “When funding is approved, we can be ready to stay on track for completion of the project before the next inauguration.”

Phase one, now complete, was funded at the eleventh hour to restore the Dome’s lower level, or skirt. Phase two, to which the call for contractors relates, would involve making repairs to the Dome’s exterior ironwork, columns, decorative ornaments, gutters and electrical systems. It would cost roughly $61 million.

Many lawmakers argue that the longer the money is held up, the more expensive the project will become as the Dome continues to erode.

But in the fiscal 2013 appropriations cycle, House Republicans on the Appropriations Committee and in leadership balked at the price tag, saying they recognized the importance of moving forward with the Dome’s restoration but were ultimately unable to justify the expense in the current fiscal environment.

The House-passed legislative branch appropriations bill last year did not include the money, while the Senate Appropriations Committee’s bill did.

Advocates for advancing repairs on the Capitol Dome fought for inclusion of the $61 million in the six-month continuing resolution that both parties and chambers agreed would hold at fiscal 2012 levels, save for a few crucial anomalies.

Funding for the Dome didn’t make the cut.

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