Congress slow to act on 9/11 memorial

Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly identified Tom Vilsack as interior secretary. He is the agriculture secretary. This version has been corrected.

Al Kamen
Columnist May 22, 2012

The Pentagon memorial to victims of the 9/11 attacks was completed nearly four years ago. The World Trade Center memorial was completed last Sept. 11.

But the memorial outside Shanksville, Pa., where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed with the loss of 40 passengers and crew members, is still millions short of meeting its $70 million proposed budget.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

A gala fundraiser at the Newseum last week, with former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and House Speaker John Boehner delivering remarks, raised $2 million, bringing the gap down to $8 million.

The National Park Foundation, which is the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, has raised about $32 million from more than 100,000 contributors.

But it appears that fewer than 10 donations to the Pennsylvania memorial have come either from the 535 members of the House and Senate who were in office on 9/11 or from the 300 others who’ve been elected since. That’s a 1.2 percent participation rate.

Pennsylvania, which had one resident on the plane, has ponied up $18 million, and the federal government has committed $8 million, with an additional $4 million expected at some point from other legislation.

Problem is, tiny Shanksville (pop. 245) lacks the fundraising abilities that were behind the other memorials. No deep-pocketed defense industry or financial industry seems willing to jump in, just an abandoned coal mine. And no family members are from that area — Flight 93 was heading from Newark to San Francisco.

In his remarks at the fundraiser, Clinton likened the passengers’ heroism to that of the 238 who died at the Alamo and of the 300 Spartans who sacrificed themselves at Thermopylae.

But those soldiers “knew when they signed up that they might die,” Clinton said. The passengers on Flight 93 “didn’t sign up for this.”

“Ten million dollars is not too much to pay” for those who “made a decision to die for us,” Clinton said.

Actually, more specifically, their deaths, according to the 9/11 Commission, saved many of the estimated 5,000 people who were in and around the Capitol that morning, including, let’s see, 535 members of Congress. There were countless staff members, tourists, and surely the ubiquitous lobbyist or two there as well.

And yet, we hear that when the foundation invited lawmakers to join an honorary Flight 93 committee last year, fewer than 25 responded.

“I’m confounded,” former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (D) told The Loop, by the lack of federal involvement. There are rules against earmarks, he added, but this would certainly be a meritorious exception.

(We’re not even going to mention the horrific al-Qaeda propaganda photos of the Capitol in flames, the cost to replace the irreplaceable, treasured icon of our democracy.)

And $8 million? After spending $621 million for a Capitol visitors center? That $8 million doesn’t even qualify as what they call budget dust. Not even close to that $200 million affront to basic free-market principles that lawmakers approved in February when they voted to subsidize airline passengers at small airports.

But Congress isn’t about to cut a check for the memorial, even though Boehner has been a consistent leader in efforts to raise private money for the project.

“We remain confident that the memorial will reach its private fundraising goal,” a Boehner spokesman e-mailed us.

Might take a while, though, and a lot of scrounging.

White House guests

If access is power, which Cabinet secretary has it — and, perhaps more interesting, which doesn’t?

In The Washington Post’s database of the White House visitor logs, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta shows up as a visitor to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue the least. One reason is that he has been on the job for less than a year.

And we should note that the database covering guests to the White House complex doesn’t show us every visit (these bigwigs most often get waved in, or their visits might be logged under a variant of their names).

Moving up the list, Energy Secretary Steven Chu shows up on the logs a mere 14 times — and he has been with President Obama from the beginning of his administration. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has dropped by no more than 18 times during Obama’s tenure, the logs show, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood each clock in at 21.

Attorney General Eric Holder is the most frequent Cabinet-level guest, according to the database, logging 42 visits. He’s followed by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at 40 and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at 33.

Make an interesting finding of your own while searching through the visitor logs? Let us know on Twitter with the hashtag #whitehouseguests.

Mitt and the mutt

Seamus, the Irish setter that Mitt Romney famously strapped to the roof of the family car, has inspired dozens of Gail Collins columns in the New York Times and at least one political action committee.

Now the pooch is the muse behind a new book of illustrations and verse, “Dog on the Roof! On the Road With Mitt & the Mutt,” by NPR writers Bruce Kluger and David Slavin. The book follows the Romney family, packed in a Chevy station wagon, on an imaginary cross-country trip. At each stop, Romney waxes eloquent about the scenery, while Seamus bemoans his precarious position.

A sample from the book: In New York, Mitt enthuses, “Wall Street’s a temple,/our nation’s salvation./ And we are among/its elite congregation,” while Seamus frets: “As long as you’re talking/ ‘bout wheeling and dealing,/a bailout is needed/on top of this ceiling!”

This is one sleeping dog that won’t lie.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop Twitter: @InTheLoopWP

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