WASHINGTON — Rep. Jim Hansen discovered Thursday an unexpected foe in his drive to create a new monument to honor Ronald Reagan on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
It is President Bush, whose administration essentially wants Hansen to lose one for the Gipper.
Representatives told a House hearing the administration opposes attempts by Hansen, R-Utah, to sidestep a law — which, ironically, Reagan signed in 1986 — that requires someone to be dead for 25 years before a memorial may be approved for them on the Mall. Reagan is alive but suffers from Alzheimer's disease.
That law also normally requires two separate pieces of legislation for a Mall memorial. One authorizes a study about its site and desirability and another gives final approval. Hansen's bill merely orders that the memorial be built quickly.
Richard D. Ring, associate director of the National Park Service, said the administration feels that following the Commemorative Works Act of 1986 signed by Reagan would honor him more than short-circuiting it as proposed by Hansen.
"Former President Reagan is a man who follows the rules, and we believe that he is better honored by following the processes set forth in the Commemorative Works Act, which he signed into law as president," Ring said.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington's nonvoting delegate to Congress, testified, "Like our greatest presidents, he would want to wait his time."
She also said the Mall is overcrowded and urged selection of an alternate site.
The Mall is home to monuments to Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and veterans of wars in Vietnam and Korea. Memorials to Martin Luther King and World War II veterans have been approved but not yet built.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee chaired by Hansen, also said Hansen should wait as intended by the 1986 law to allow Reagan's achievements to be judged by others later to see if they are worthy of a Mall memorial.
He said Hansen and allies "should perhaps find some other means of displaying their admiration for this former president. After all, he already has an airport and a federal building named after him in the nation's capital. And certainly, the Mall is no place to play politics with."
Hansen was undeterred by criticism and still urged the Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands to support it.
Hansen said the 25-year waiting period established by the 1986 law "was an arbitrary time period." He said Reagan presents a special case to disregard that because "his battle with Alzheimer's disease sadly means that his public life is and has been coming to an end since he left office in 1989."
He said plenty of room also exists on the Mall for another monument. "I think if everyone would keep their perspective on this issue, another memorial is certainly not going to destroy the vistas of the Mall."
Hansen also argued that Reagan "deserves a national tribute in a place of prominence . . . on the national Mall alongside the other great leaders of our nation's history."
Two other bills designed, in part, to honor Reagan were also opposed by the Bush administration at the hearing. One was by House Speaker Dennis Hastert to turn Reagan's boyhood home into a national historic site, the other was to study Cold War sites worthy of protection.
Ring said that is because the Bush administration opposes any expansion of the national park and monument system for a time.
"We are generally seeking a temporary moratorium on new park unit designations or authorization of new studies so that we can focus existing resources on taking care of what we now own," Ring said.
The National Park Service has said it has a $15 billion backlog of needed maintenance in parks. Bush last week proposed an additional $5 billion in coming years to help address it.