Rusty Dome

The U.S. Capitol Dome needs repair; partisanship is in the way.

August 31, 2012 

What’s next? Leaving the gum on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial? Or perhaps Republicans in the U.S. House will decide to leave the pool at the World War II memorial empty. Maybe they’ll want to cut back services at the Smithsonian and leave the fingerprints on John Glenn’s Friendship 7 capsule.

For who would have thought the day would come when the harsh partisanship of even the tea party Republicans would prohibit important repairs to no less a building than the United States Capitol, the heart and soul, at least in terms of hard structures, of American democracy?

But that’s what’s happening.

The Capitol Dome is in such a state and Stephen Ayers, who holds the position of architect of the Capitol, says it now ranks as a safety hazard.

The Dome, that grand and historic symbol, hasn’t had any major renovations in 50 years. Given that it is in Washington, a city which suffers extremes of weather with blistering summers and heavy snowfalls in winter, that is remarkable.

And, as it turns out, neglectful.

There now are 1,300 known cracks in the Dome. That means there likely are many more.

Water has seeped through the cracks to the point where there is rust and staining on the ornamentation of the Rotunda.

Democrats in the Senate have appropriated $61 million to fix the Dome. Republicans in the House, where tea partyers willing not long ago to shut down the government over a budget dispute are in charge, won’t act. They’re standing by their austerity promises.

This kind of confrontation is not what the leaders of this democracy, the ones who built that Capitol literally and figuratively, had in mind.

They knew civil discourse was an ideal perhaps not always to be achieved, but they figured that people of honor would find ways to carry on and work for the best interests of the people even in times of confrontation.

The Republicans who have continued to block or attempt to block almost every positive initiative launched by their fellow members or by President Obama can surely realize there are lines even they should not cross. And one of them is not allowing the deterioration of national symbols and monuments, especially one where the work of government has been done.

For the American people, no matter which political side they happen to be on, this dispute surely rises to the top of the list of reasons why Congress finds itself with improvement ratings in the cellar underneath the cellar.

And in this case, the blame doesn’t go around. Republicans risk, justifiably so, taking the heat, all of it. The Democrats in the Senate have appropriated the money to fix the nation’s wonderful Capitol. The Republicans stand in the way.

Many descriptions of that scenario come to mind. Shrewd politics isn’t one of them.

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