August 29, 2012

THE ROOF of the Capitol — the iconic dome — is badly in need of repair. Years of inclement weather have caused hundreds of leaks; water seeping through the pinholes and cracks wreaks havoc on the decorative elements that make the dome unique. Putting off needed repairs is never a good idea — as many a homeowner has found out the hard way. So let’s hope Congress, steward of this precious national structure, has the good sense to undertake its timely repair.

“The dome needs comprehensive rehabilitation. It’s a public safety issue,” Stephen T. Ayers, architect of the Capitol, told the New York Times in a recent article detailing its dire state. An impasse between the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate over the fiscal 2013 budget has ensnared funding for the needed repairs. About $20 million has been spent on soon-to-be completed repairs to the section of the dome that surrounds the base of its original foundation, but repair work on the rest of the exterior will cost $61 million more.

The House voted this year to cut the funds as part of its efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit; the Senate Appropriations Committee voted just before the August recess to provide the money, but there’s been no vote on the appropriation (or, apparently, plans for one) by the full Senate. Unable to agree on a budget, congressional leaders recently reached a deal to fund government programs at roughly current levels through March and will try to pass a short-term spending bill that likely would not include the $61 million.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) assured us that “everyone supports fixing the Capitol dome” and expressed confidence that a solution will be found. But the sooner the architect of the Capitol is appropriated the funds, the sooner Mr. Ayers’s office can start putting out bids for the work that everyone agrees is needed and, if delayed, will undoubtedly cost more. Why risk further damage to the dome or possible dangers to public safety?

Mr. Boehner should take seriously the request of Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who chairs the committee that oversees the Capitol complex, and include the funds in the interim spending measure expected to come before Congress next month.