GOP senators ripped for blocking museum

GOP senators ripped for blocking museum
© Greg Nash

House champions of legislation to jump-start the creation a women’s history museum in the nation’s capital are upping the pressure on Senate conservatives who are blocking the proposal in the upper chamber.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTrump to hold Nashville rally amid efforts to boost GOP Senate hopeful The Hill's 12:30 Report Singer Jason Mraz: Too much political 'combat' in Washington MORE (R-Tenn.), lead sponsors of the House-passed bill, are urging Sens. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnMr. President, let markets help save Medicare Pension insolvency crisis only grows as Congress sits on its hands Paul Ryan should realize that federal earmarks are the currency of cronyism MORE (R-Okla.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Senate panel advances Trump's CIA nominee Doug Jones to oppose Haspel as CIA chief MORE (R-Utah) to drop their hold on the proposal in hopes of salvaging the legislation in the waning days of the 113th Congress.

“It’s just outrageous,” Maloney said Tuesday by phone, that two senators could block the popular bipartisan effort.

“This is the time to get it done,” said the New York Democrat, who’s been pushing similar legislation since 1998. “Can’t we agree on something?”

Coburn and Lee contend the legislation, which would establish a bipartisan commission to study the potential creation of a national women’s history museum in Washington, could lead to enormous taxpayer costs down the line. 

In a June 18 letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenators near deal on sexual harassment policy change Blankenship third-party bid worries Senate GOP Overnight Finance: Trump signs repeal of auto-loan policy | Justices uphold contracts that bar employee class-action suits | US, China trade war 'on hold' MORE (R-Ky.), the conservatives warned that, while the creation of a women’s history museum “is certainly a laudable undertaking,” the legislation “could expose taxpayers to millions of dollars in potential future costs at a time when the federal government is $17 trillion in debt.”

The pair derailed the effort of Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMcConnell not yet ready to change rules for Trump nominees The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate Trump to press GOP on changing Senate rules MORE (D-Nev.) to fast-track the legislation via unanimous consent. And despite the lobbying efforts of Maloney and Blackburn, they don’t appear ready to back down anytime soon.

“Consideration of the museum’s long-term costs for taxpayers has not been fully addressed,” Lee spokesman Brian Phillips said Tuesday in an email. “Until then, Sen. Lee will not support allowing the bill to move forward without full and complete debate on the Senate floor.”

Coburn’s office echoed that message, arguing, “Coburn does not believe the federal government should be building new museums.”

“While a women’s museum celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of women is certainly worthwhile, Congress should not be involved in its planning, construction or maintenance,” Coburn spokeswoman Elaine Joseph said in an email. “[The bill] does not appropriate money for the commission, but congressional involvement at any point will likely lead to future federal appropriations for the museum.”

Both Maloney and Blackburn have pressed the senators on the topic. While Blackburn’s office declined Tuesday to specify the nature of those conversations, Maloney said the Tennessee Republican has come away frustrated.

“Her report is that Lee and Coburn are just being impossible about it,” Maloney said.

The legislation would create an eight-member commission, appointed by congressional leaders from both parties and chambers, to examine the best way to bring a women’s museum “on or near” the National Mall and deliver its recommendations to both Congress and the White House. It passed the House in May by an overwhelming 383-33 vote.

Maloney noted that recent additions to Washington’s crop of monuments — including the Holocaust Museum, the Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of African American History and Culture — were all launched by commissions originating in Congress.

“How come everyone else can have that model, but not us?” she asked.

She says the group has already raised $15 million — a figure well above the $1 million to $3 million cost of the proposed study, but far shy of the hundreds of millions of dollars typically required to erect and maintain such a facility in the nation’s capital. The African American museum, for instance, which is scheduled to open in 2016, is estimated to cost $500 million, half of which will be covered by the federal government, according to the Smithsonian Institution.

The fate of the legislation will hinge largely on Reid’s approach. The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn Trump's plan to claw back spending hits wall in Congress Dem rep to launch discharge petition to force net neutrality vote in House MORE (R-Maine), has already been endorsed by a number of Republicans and would likely pass through the upper chamber if it came to the floor. The question remains whether Reid will dedicate the time, in the lame-duck session, to try to move the bill by regular order. 

Reid’s office did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

McConnell could also play an outsized role in the debate. The Kentucky Republican has not taken a public stand on the issue but has indicated his support behind closed doors, according to Maloney.

McConnell’s office did not respond Tuesday.

Meanwhile, museum supporters are lamenting that the National Mall boasts monuments to Native-Americans, African-Americans, aviation and other groups “but not half the population of America.”