Last year COngress voted to authorize the Architect of the Capitol to spend $250,000 in the next two years on the historic but poorly maintained Congressional Cemetery. This year, now that it is time to actually appropriate the funds, the House Appropriations Committee has turned down a request for $225,000 to help restore the cemetery.
At a meeting of the committee on Tuesday, Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.) proposed that the funds request, which was rejected last week by the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, by granted. Boggs' motion was defeated by the full committee by a vote of 27 to 13.
Shortly before it adjourned last October. Congress voted to authorize the Architect of the Capitol to spend $250,000 over the next two years "to prevnt further deterioration" of sections of the cemetery which are of "historical significance."
The measure was sponsored by the leaders of both parties in both houses: Sen. Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.), Sen. Hugh Scott (R-Pa.), Rep. Thomas P. O'Neill (D-Mass.) and Rep. John J. Rhodes (R-Ariz.). The bill attracted more than 30 additional co-sponsors and passed by a voice vote, with no opposition.
Rep. Boggs, who served as chairman of the Joint Committee on the Arrangements for the Bicentennial, saw the restoration of the cemetery as a bicentennial project and helped rally support for the bill.
The 30-acre burial ground sprawls along the Anacostia River near 18th and E Streets SE. The cemetery, the first to be setablished in the city of Washington, was founded in 1807 by parishioners of Christ Church on Capitol Hill. Some gravesites were set aside for members of Congress - especially those who died while serving in the capital.
Over the years, Congress has made occasional appropriations for improvements to the cemetery, in which 14 senators and 43 representatives are buried. The federal government owns several hundred gravesites, but the cemetery itself still belongs to Christ Church which lacks funds to maintain it properly. Only those gravesites owned by the government get regular maintenance - by a crew from Arlington Cemetery.
Former Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, who proposed the original legislation, expressed regret for the subcomittee's action. "There are about 80,000 people buried in the Congressional Cemetery, many of whom were instrumental in establishing our republic," Scott said through a spokesman. "The $225,000 appropriation would be a worthwhile investment in our nation's history. Unfortunately the people in the cemetery, no matter how important they once were, are dead - and they don't vote. I fear that the warm bicetennial feelings that prompted us to act last year to restore the cemetery have waned, and that it will continue to be a national disgrace."
Rep. George E. Shipley (D-I11.), chairman of the subcommittee that denied the funds, rejected the idea that the maintenance of the cemetery was a responsibility of Conress. "By no stretch of the imagination does this belong in the Congressional budget," Shilpley said at last week's mark-up session. The request was part of the budget submitted by the Architect of the Capitol. The Architect's expenditures, plus those of the Library of Congress, the Botannical Gardens, the Government Printing Office and considered part of the Congressional budget.
According to a member of the subcommittee staff, the subcommittee members were eager to cut the budget to avoid the onus of becoming the first billion-dollar Congress.
The budget requests qpproved by the subcommittee at the mark-up session total $959,422,100. The Senate is expected to add another $155,000,000 for its expenses, bringing the total Congressional budget to more than $1 billion. The appropriations approved by the House subcommittee include $55 million to extend that West front of the Captitol, a project opposed by many architects and historians, and $483,000 eo create a parking lot for House employees on the site of the old Providence Hospital on Capitol Hill, a projects opposed by neighborhood residents and civic groups.
"It seems incredible that Congress would refuse to sped half as much on a cemetery where many of their past members are buried as they agree to spend on a lot where their employees park their cars," said Francis Kraemer, president of the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery. The association, which was formed in March 1976, has raised about $10,000 for the cemetery. An endowment fund provides an income of about $12,000 a year for maintenance of the cemetery.
"It costs us $3,000 every time we have the grass cut," said Kraemer. "It should be cut at least 12 times a year but we can only afford to have it cut 3 or 4 times. We're in a bind."
Weeds are one enemy of the cemetery, and vandals are another, according to Kraemer. The association, he said, had counted on the Architect of the Capitol to rebuild the wall surrounding the cemetery in order to check vandalism.
"This was to be a gift of Congress to the city in celebration of the bicentennail - the only gift of lasting value," said Kraemer. "Now that gift has been take away."
Among the notables buried in Congressional Cemetery are bandmaster John Philip Sousa, Vice President Elbridge Gerry, Capitol architect William Thornotn, Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and several Indian chiefs.