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Frank Gehry’s Ike Memorial Plan Adds to Interior Spending Discord

Simpson said Eisenhower family doesn't have to have "veto power" on memorial design "but they can't oppose it." (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Simpson said Eisenhower family doesn't have to have "veto power" on memorial design "but they can't oppose it." (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Ask Rep. Mike Simpson , R-Idaho, about the fate of architect Frank Gehry’s design for the Dwight D. Eisenhower memorial and he’ll tell you it’s time to wipe the slate clean and start over.  

“There’s been some real conflict between the staff, the Eisenhower family and, to some degree, Congress,” said Simpson, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee panel that is urging a “reset” on memorial plans. “In the end, what you’ve got to have is a design that’s supported by the Eisenhower family. They don’t have to have veto power, but they can’t oppose it,” Simpson continued during a brief interview outside the House chamber. “So, I think it’s best that they start over.”  

On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., intends to do his part to keep the Eisenhower Memorial Commission churning along with the current plan. The Senate Appropriations Committee’s version of the Interior-EPA Appropriations bill would include $1 million for commission staff salaries and operations.  

“But there will be an effort to try to get additional funding in what may be an omnibus and there’s also a great deal of emphasis on private funding that has some real good prospects,” Roberts told CQ Roll Call Tuesday.  

Both Republicans sit on the 11-member Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which also includes four Capitol Hill Democrats and one other Republican. The conflicting answers reveal one more rift in what is one of the most controversial of Congress’ 12 spending bills.  

The White House threatened Tuesday to veto the House’s version of the bill, saying it “drastically underfunds” core Department of the Interior programs and the Environmental Protection Agency’s operating budget, and blocks key policies. Regulations on carbon and greenhouse gas emissions have provoked an ongoing battle between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who represents the coalfields of Kentucky, and the Obama administration.  

“Further, the bill includes numerous highly problematic ideological provisions that have no place in funding legislation. These provisions threaten to undermine the ability of States and communities to address climate change and protect a resource that is essential to America’s health—clean water, as well as the most basic protections for America’s special places and the people and wildlife that rely on them,” noted the policy statement, which specifically cited provisions related to hydraulic fracturing, carbon and greenhouse gas.  

“I really think down the road that … you know, funding is always tough,” said Roberts, who promised bullish leadership when he took over as chairman of the commission this spring.  

The Commission on Fine Arts gave final approval on June 18 to Gehry’s plan for statues of Eisenhower as a young boy in Kansas, World War II commander and president, set against a massive stainless steel tapestry depicting prairie scenery.  

Gehry’s plan originally called for two additional tapestries. But those were scrapped, leaving two freestanding 80-foot columns that have continued to draw criticism, including requests for a simpler design  from Eisenhower’s granddaughters.  

House appropriators urged legislation to ditch Gehry’s design and start fresh, though that could be a costly process. Congressional Budget Office analysts predicted in 2013 that it would cost $17 million over the course of five years to implement a bill sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.  

“Sure,” Simpson replied, when asked if he was concerned by the price tag. “But I’m even more concerned about going on with a design that’s not supported widely by the Eisenhower family and Congress.”  

The current design would cost just shy of $100 million to construct, according to budget documents from the EMC. The commission estimates that expenditures for the entire project, including construction, would be around $144 million.  

According to the experts behind the architecture and design blog Greater Greater Washington, construction costs for the Eisenhower memorial park fall within the price range for other nearby memorials projects when calculated for inflation. Construction of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, for instance, would cost around $100 million today, while the Lincoln Memorial rings in at $167 million.  

“This memorial is rather inexpensive compared to most,” Roberts said, sounding optimistic about the prospect of private fundraising. “We’ve got an awful lot of World War II veterans that are really chipping in on this. They’d like to see this if possible, you know, given their age.”

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