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Posted at 1:20 PM ET, 12/ 3/2010

Flushing $200,000 down the drain?

By Jennifer Rubin

Politico reports:

The incoming Republican House leader proposed plans to build female members a new restroom off the House floor, but the project could cost the taxpayers at least $200,000, according to a congressional aide who has seen the cost estimates.... The aide says there is no plumbing in that area of the historical building, which would require special construction that could make it more expensive. Estimates were based on House official's earlier renovation of the men's restroom to make it wheelchair accessible. That upgrade alone cost $126,000.

My first reaction is that they've thrown away a lot more money on less worthy endeavors. After all, they spent $621 million on a new vistors center (which delighted Harry Reid, who declared he'd no longer need to inhale the aroma of sweaty tourists). And in the $800 billion stimulus bill, they couldn't have slipped in a relative pittance to build a ladies' room? A list of ludicrous stimulus plan items includes these doozies:

Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo received $389,000 to pay 100 residents of Buffalo $45 each to record how much malt liquor they drink and how much pot they smoke each day. Instead of spending nearly $400,000, the U.S. government could have achieved the same goal by having a couple of scientists join a fraternity.

$100,000 in federal stimulus funds were used for a martini bar and a brazilian steakhouse. . .

The Cactus Bug Project at the University Of Florida was allocated $325,394 in stimulus funds to study the mating decisions of cactus bugs. According to the project proposal, one of the questions that will be answered by the study is this: "Whether males with large weapons are more or less attractive to females." . .

A liberal theater in Minnesota named "In the Heart of the Beast" (in reference to a well known quote by communist radical Che Guevara) received $100,000 for socially conscious puppet shows.

In other words, grading on a curve, and considering the chazerai we spend money on, this is one of the more utlilitarian projects Congress might undertake.

There are a couple of semi-serious points here. First, it is human nature, I suppose, to agonize over $200,000, while Congress in a blink spends billions and trillions. The numbers are so large that at some point that they become meaningless. If we spent a fraction of the time considering the merits of an agriculture bill or a transportation bill that costs $300 billion as we do debating a ladies room (how much without the hand drying machines?), we might make some progress on our fiscal situation.

And second, let's talk Davis-Bacon for a moment. The Davis-Bacon Act was passed in 1931 and requires any government contract in excess of $2,000 to pay the "prevailing" (union) wage. Reason magazine recently explained why this is a rip off and discriminatory to boot:

Davis-Bacon is a blatant piece of special-interest, pro-union legislation. It hasn't come cheap for taxpayers. According to research by Suffolk University economists, Davis-Bacon has raised the construction wages on federal projects 22 percent above the market rate.

James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation finds that repealing Davis-Bacon would save taxpayers $11.4 billion in 2010 alone. Simply suspending Davis-Bacon would allow government contractors to hire 160,000 new workers at no additional cost, according to Sherk.

To make matters worse, the Davis-Bacon Act has explicitly racist origins. It was introduced in response to the presence of Southern black construction workers on a Long Island, N.Y.. veterans hospital project. This "cheap" and "bootleg" labor was denounced by Rep. Robert L. Bacon, New York Republican, who introduced the legislation. American Federation of Labor (AFL) president William Green eagerly testified in support of the law before the U.S. Senate, claiming that "colored labor is being brought in to demoralize wage rates."

The Act is discriminatory both in intent and in its application. So if we want to talk about some savings in discretionary spending and do something for equal opportunity (aren't Democrats supposed to be in favor of that too?), we should consider modifying or repealing Davis-Bacon.

By Jennifer Rubin  | December 3, 2010; 1:20 PM ET
Categories:  House GOP  
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Well, if the women are complaining - give them the Men's room in that area and make it the Women's room - make the Men walk over to whereever the next one is.

The guys need the exercise.

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 3, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse


I always take these stories with a grain of salt, so I looked it up.

"A liberal theater in Minnesota named "In the Heart of the Beast" (in reference to a well known quote by communist radical Che Guevara) received $100,000 for socially conscious puppet shows."

It was actually $25,000, to save one person's job. You or someone else misread the headline.

Why is that important? By the time you are quoted by someone else, it will be one million dollars and not the $100,000 that you misquoted. That's how these things work, until all discussion is useless because things are divorced from reality.

BTW, if it matters I am an equal opportunity pain in the *ss. Yesterday I got all over Ezra Klein because he misquoted the rate on the Treasury 10 year by 20% and that is a BIG difference.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 3, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Those projects don't seem important to YOU, and you obviously listed them in such a way that you'd hope your readers would agree (and be entertained--don't get me wrong, the "join a fraternity" thing was pretty funny), but they are probably important to SOME, and even, indirectly, you. I don't know if research into this Cactus Bug is important or not. But then, research into volcanoes was criticized before and then that one blew up and shut down Europe, so what do I know?

The point is it's not always painfully obvious what is important and what is wasteful, and how much funding to give to important--or at least useful--research and how much is too much, hence the problems we have cutting spending.

Posted by: jhnnywalkr | December 3, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

In keeping with the GOP desire to add nothing to the deficit, I propose each of the 435 representatives pitch in $500 (payable in 4 monthly installmnts of $125) to pay for the new facility.

That or get corporate sponsorship.

Posted by: MsJS | December 3, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Dear Ms. Rubin,

Please do not read comments on your posts. Your work is extremely valuable and our nation needs it to flow as it did on your blog at Commentary. Responding to the comments on this site would be a tragic waste of your time. Frankly, I cannot believe that the folks at the Washington Post set you up for the abuse that you will receive through this comments section. I guess they did not read your blog at Commentary and do not appreciate the quality of your work. You are the best analyst and thinker on the internet. Please do not waste your time with comments.

Posted by: JohnMarshall3 | December 3, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

That or get corporate sponsorship.


And where exactly do you propose the placement of these corporate names?

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 3, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I leave that to your imagination, RainForestRising.

Posted by: MsJS | December 3, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

I think about it this way: relative to my adding a bathroom to my house (to number of people it would serve, to household budget, etc.) this project would cost me about $5 (maybe less- I'm not pulling out my scratch pad for this one,) which I would do in a millisecond. The whole story is such a nice change of pace from the stories 4 years ago about Nancy's "measuring the drapes" for her offices- let me know if Boehner is agonizing over tile choices.

BTW, the "just give them the men's room" idea is a non-starter. Any self-respecting woman would insist on the kind of cleaning/remodel that would probably cost $200k anyway.

Posted by: bbmoe | December 3, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

How much more of a no-brainer could this possibly be? How long does it take the Feds to spend $200,000? About .000005 seconds, right?

I think the ladies deserve a nice place to go sit down, take off their shoes if they want, visit a little bit, do whatever they do in there that takes so long, and generally come back out feeling a little more relaxed, refreshed, and pampered. It's still a man's world and being in Congress can't be that easy for any woman.

In fact, I think the appropriation should include funds to tip the lady attendant too. In cash.

Posted by: JohnHeuertz | December 3, 2010 9:30 PM | Report abuse

It's just amazing to me that the government would freeze federal salaries, end unemployment benefits, not give retirees a COLA, but will turn right around and spend almost a quarter of a million dollars on a john for the ladies.

I don't agree with a lot of the tea party agenda, but on this, they're completely right. Congress is entirely out of touch with the American people and the process is completely broken.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | December 4, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

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