Vanity Lair

Congress honors itself


In the early 1990s, Congress got the idea that America needed an underground facility where tourists could escape D.C.'s sticky Augusts and biting Februaries while lining up to tour the Capitol. Estimated cost: $70 million.

In the 15 years since, the project has morphed into a sprawling, $621 million, three-story, ostentatious shrine to "the legislative process." In other words, Congress built a tribute to itself. The new building, which opened in December (three years late and $300 million over the revised budget), includes a TV studio (with make-up room) for members to record messages to their constituents, a 450-seat dining area, two orientation theaters, an auditorium, and an exhibition hall.

The building's grand opening attracted lots of press and featured speeches by congressional leaders and VIPs. But one element was conspicuously missing: tourists and taxpayers. That's because they weren't invited: The event was closed to the public. Which was probably a good thing, because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) apparently wasn't content with bilking taxpayers for the vanity project; he insulted them too. "My staff tells me not to say this, but I'm going to say it anyway," he said, according to Politico. "In the summer because of the heat and high humidity, you could literally smell the tourists coming into the Capitol. It may be descriptive, but it's true."

Grandiose, self-congratulatory, larded with wasteful add-ons, and contemptuous of taxpayers—actually, the center is the perfect tribute to Congress.