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 BlackburnHouse Oversight Democrat presses Facebook for 'failure' to protect users Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Overnight Hillicon Valley — Scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens MORE (R-Tenn.), lead sponsors of the House-passed bill, are urging Sens. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnBiden and AOC's reckless spending plans are a threat to the planet NSF funding choice: Move forward or fall behind DHS establishes domestic terror unit within its intelligence office MORE (R-Okla.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit Trump lawyer offered six-point plan for Pence to overturn election: book Graham found Trump election fraud arguments suitable for 'third grade': Woodward book MORE (R-Utah) to drop their hold on the proposal in hopes of salvaging the legislation in the waning days of the 113th Congress.

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“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 McConnellOn The Money — Democrats rush to finish off infrastructure Biden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' 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 ReidTo Build Back Better, we need a tax system where everyone pays their fair share Democrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda 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 CollinsCollins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase 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.”