Politics

GOP defense authorization bill bans ‘monuments to me’ with taxpayer dollars

Jonathan Strong Contributor

Take the James E. Clyburn Pedestrian Overpass. Or the The Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York.

Or, how about the C.W. Bill Young Marine Science Complex, the C.W. Bill Young Drawbridge, the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, the C.W. Bill Young Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, the C.W. Bill Young University Partnership Center, the C.W. Bill Young Armed Forces Reserve Center, the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir, and the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program?

All of these are taxpayer-funded facilities named after a sitting member of Congress, so-called “monuments to me.” Critics say putting a sitting lawmakers’ name on a federal facility is a conflict of interest. Not to mention unseemly.

But just-passed legislation in the House Armed Services Committee would put an end to these testaments to ego.

Rep. Mike Turner, Ohio Republican, is leading the charge. Turner introduced the amendment banning the monuments going forward. The amendment passed by a voice vote, and now the legislation is headed to the House floor.

“I think it’s a conflict,” Turner said in an interview. “This is taxpayer’s dollars we’re talking about. And it gives the wrong impression as if the buildings or operations are affiliated with an elected official who’s currently still in office.”

Turner said the named buildings make it more difficult for the government to decide its priorities based on the best criteria.

“It makes it more difficult for agencies who deal with those members to make business decisions about those facilities. I think also it sets up a conflict for the member as to what they have on their to-do list with respect to that particular facility,” Turner said.

Ending monuments to me was a vow made by Republicans back when they were on the outside, looking in, with Democrats in power and New York Democratic Rep. Rangel under fire for soliciting donations for his center on congressional stationary.

“There should be no more ‘monuments to me’ created by congressional lawmakers using taxpayer dollars, particularly at a time when family budgets are being pummeled by gas prices brought on by Washington’s failure to address our country’s energy needs,” Speaker John Boehner said in July 2008, when he was the House minority leader.

Of course, the practice is bipartisan, as is evident from Young’s eight – eight! – facilities or programs named after him. Young is the Republican chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee.

Getting the legislation past Young and other House representatives with a penchant for naming buildings after themselves may not be the problem.

“Senators seem to be a little more interested in putting their names on things,” Turner said.

On the Senate side, Sen. Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, is the worst offender by number, with nine buildings or programs named after him.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, has an elementary school named after her.

Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, has his own “National Warmater Aquaculture Center.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, has a lecture series. Sen. Chuck Schumer has a government-mandated box on credit card paperwork summarizing the costs of the card.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, Maine Republican, had a 122-foot tall snow woman built in her likeness in Bethel, Maine in 2008. It has since melted.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the socialist senator from Vermont, has two (non-taxpayer funded, presumably) sandwich shops named after him.