Renovation Funds Cut From Stimulus Bill

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 29, 2009

Trampled, trashed and slightly balder after hosting a record-breaking number of visitors during President Obama's swearing-in ceremony, the Mall is not getting thrown a rescue line that advocates had hoped for.

Funding for a $200 million renovation of the Mall was included in Obama's stimulus package but was yanked Tuesday night during a House Rules Committee session to slim down the $825 billion measure, according to congressional records.

"Once again the Mall is being held hostage to politics. The American people just demonstrated -- on the Mall on Inauguration Day -- that we want change," said Judy Scott Feldman, president of the nonprofit National Coalition to Save Our Mall.

"Which public space is more important to our unique democracy than the National Mall? Congressional neglect of the Mall is a travesty," Scott said.

Mall advocates have long hoped for funding of a major renovation project, saying it is needed to make up for years of deep cuts in the National Park Service's maintenance budget. But opponents of the proposal in the stimulus bill said it was excessive.

In a Fox News interview last week, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said, "If you look at the bill that passed the Ways and Means Committee yesterday, for every dollar that is spent to help small businesses, $4 is being spent to help upkeep the grass on the lawns of Washington."

The $200 million was not intended only to fortify the turf that more than a million visitors stood on last week. Much of the stimulus money was going to repair the Jefferson Memorial's sea wall, which is sinking into the Tidal Basin.

So much of the southwest sea wall is breached at high tide that a pedestrian detour has been built at one of the most popular spots of the Mall.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs defended the rebuilding package at a briefing Tuesday, reminding U.S. residents of the recent experience on that historic piece of parkland.

"When we met on the first day of our presidency, we were on the Mall, right?" Gibbs said, adding that 1.8 million people "stood on the Mall, which happens to be the most visited national park that we have, right? I think that you can make a very credible case, and the economic team has, that reconditioning the National Mall will create jobs -- probably through spending in small businesses."

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