What’s next? Leaving gum on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial? Or perhaps Republicans in the U.S. House will decide to leave the pool at the World War II memorial empty. Maybe they’ll want to cut back services at the Smithsonian and leave the fingerprints on John Glenn’s Friendship 7 capsule.

For who would have thought the day would come when the harsh partisanship of even the tea party Republicans would prohibit important repairs to no less a building than the U.S. Capitol, the heart and soul, at least in terms of hard structures, of American democracy?

But that’s what’s happening.

The Capitol Dome is in such a state, and Stephen Ayers, who holds the position of architect of the Capitol, says it now ranks as a safety hazard.

The Dome, that grand and historic symbol, hasn’t had any major renovations in 50 years. Given that it is in Washington, a city that suffers extremes of weather with blistering summers and heavy snowfalls in winter, that is remarkable.

And, as it turns out, neglectful.

The dome has 1,300 known cracks. That means there likely are many more.

Democrats in the Senate have appropriated $61 million to fix the dome. Republicans in the House, where tea partiers willing not long ago to shut down the government over a budget dispute are in charge, won’t act. They’re standing by their austerity promises.

For the American people, no matter which political side they happen to be on, this dispute surely rises to the top of the list of reasons why Congress finds itself with improvement ratings in the cellar underneath the cellar.

Many descriptions of that scenario come to mind. Shrewd politics isn’t one of them.

— The News & Observer of Raleigh, Aug. 31

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