Wallet Surgery


A terrible oversight has occurred. Last November 14, "a tremendous victory for all Americans" was achieved. Yet most Americans don't know about it, even though they've made a $500,000 down payment on it and will be paying a lot more down the road.

The victory was a law creating a "National Health Museum." The museum's promoters have assured the public that a National Health Museum is just what America needs, and Congress and President Clinton have agreed. Backers hope to spend $200 million to build a grand structure on or near the Washington Mall.

In Washington, $1 billion is pocket change, so $200 million goes completely unnoticed. Still, it would take 20,000 taxpayers paying $10,000 each to come up with the cash. It's also enough money to buy up all the remaining rain forest in Costa Rica.

The health museum's main promoter is the irrepressible C. Everett Koop, the former surgeon general whose bold public stances made him such a household figure that Civil War-style goatees and sideburns threatened to come back in fashion.

The whole venture started when the Pentagon wanted to dump its medical history museum at Walter Reed Medical Center. Koop determined not only to save the museum but to remake it in truly Washingtonian proportions: "Configured at the nexus of the medical and communications worlds of the next century, the Museum will share the triumphs and accomplishments that comprise our nation's medical heritage and provide a glimpse of our collective future," says a Koop press release.

Funny thing, though. Museum promoters avoided publicity when seeking public funds, quietly tucking the item into the "secretary's budget" of the health appropriations bill, where it would have remained unseen were it not for a tip from some killjoy on the House appropriations staff. Backers promise that private money will also be raised.

Some narrow-minded lowbrows like Tom Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste deride Koop's grand vision as being "laughable if it weren't true." Oh but it is.