Lawmakers on the Appropriations panels that oversee the architect of the Capitol cast this week’s announcement of the next phase of Dome restoration as a victory after a rough month of congressional warfare, but future budget battles will still need to be fought to ensure the project can be completed.
“Restoring the Capitol Dome is one of the few things Congress has accomplished with bipartisan cooperation in the midst of draconian cuts to other parts of the legislative branch of government,” said Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the ranking member of the House subcommittee that approves AOC funding and the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. “The Capitol Dome is a symbol of our great democracy and it is appropriate that as stewards of this institution, we do what is needed to ensure that it continues to stand for generations to come.”
Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers’ announcement on Tuesday that the multiyear project to restore and repair the leaky Dome would begin in November came less than a week after a deal was brokered to end the 16-day federal shutdown, which had furloughed a vast portion of his 2,600-person workforce.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., an appropriator who has taken on Dome funding as a pet project, said in an email the good news came at a “fitting time,” and he called the structure “an icon of the enduring union of our country and a reminder that more unites us than divides us as Americans.”
He is the ranking Republican on the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee.
Funding for this phase of the Dome restoration project was provided through the previous continuing resolution, and not as an additional appropriation but as a transfer. The CR allowed the agency to transfer $61 million from its existing account to fund capital projects toward funding the rehabilitation of the Dome. After a competitive bidding process, the final budget clocked in at $59.55 million, according to the agency.
“There will be other projects that are in our budget that won’t be able to get done,” Ayers said in March during a House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. Ayers explained that the AOC has had to postpone some projects and prioritize those most in need of attention under the pinch of sequester cuts.
The next portion of the Capitol restoration project has been included in bills advanced by both chambers’ Appropriations panels in July as a line item. Though they differ in total spending, both chambers included $15.94 million for the Dome.
Whether that amount is appropriated will depend on the agreement reached in any deal that will fund federal agencies after the current continuing resolution expires in January.
Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., vowed to fight for the funds on Wednesday.
“Senator Shaheen is working on a bipartisan basis to make sure repairs are made in a timely fashion and on budget,” said Elizabeth Kenigsberg, press secretary for the office. “She thinks we should finish the job we started.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.