The Smithsonian in Washington -- the place that's making free admission to all your favorite museums possible.
I often tell out-of-towners that one of the best things about living in D.C. is not merely that we have one of the world’s best collections of museums, all gathered together within a few blocks, but that for the most part, they’re free. Of course, they’re not free -- they’re funded by taxpayers, the vast majority of whom don’t live close enough to go see Skylab or the original Kermit the Frog or the Hope Diamond on a regular basis.
Now, the leaders of President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform are suggesting slicing $225 million from the annual Smithsonian budget, and making up the difference by charging about $7.50 per visit. The Smithsonian museums have been free since 1846, and past efforts to charge admission haven’t gone very far. But as much as it pains me, as someone who visits a Smithsonian or two just about every week, to say it, perhaps that’s an indulgence the country can no longer afford.
The recommendations by ex-Sen. Alan Simpson and Clinton Administration figure Erskine Bowles don’t even represent the views of the entire commission, let alone the White House or Congress, and there’s an emerging consensus that they won’t get very far. But if Obama and the resurgent GOP in Congress decide to tackle the deficit, this area will certainly feel the effects. Washington Post Federal Diary columnist Joe Davidson says the recommendations “would hit federal employees hard, freezing their pay and reducing their numbers.”
Elsewhere in the DMV:
* In a comparison that’s certainly never been made before, the Post’s Mike DeBonis writes that “much as former president George W. Bush is now plying the talk-show circuit to plug his memoirs and try to recalibrate public impressions of his presidency,” Adrian Fenty “is engaged in a campaign to color how his mayoralty will be remembered.”
Fenty has cast himself as a victim of the entrenched teachers’ unions he took on. But DeBonis says “the the road to martyrdom that Fenty has embarked upon paves over matters that might better explain his loss: His alienation of natural supporters,” his “inability to sell many parents on the reforms he undertook,” and his “refusal to adapt his reelection campaign to political reality.”
* The Washington Examiner’s Freeman Klopott reports that the D.C Council “wants to make it easier for the city government to hire ex-convicts. A bill sponsored by Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. and co-sponsored by six other members “would prohibit most District agencies from asking about the criminal records or histories of job applicants until after they’ve landed an interview.”
While supporters say the measure will help ex-convicts -- who make up a full 10 percent of the District population -- to get city jobs, critics say the legislation “will worsen problems the city has with weeding out dangerous job applicants.”
* WAMU’s Patrick Madden reports that though the District government issued a travel freeze for city employees last month, taxpayer-funded trips continue, at a cost so far of nearly $70,000.
* The Washington Times reports the D.C. Republican Party has high hopes for the upcoming At-Large Council special election, which “will be a free-for-all with no party affiliation listed, giving Washington Republicans a rare shot in this overwhelmingly Democratic city.” Defeated Ward 3 GOP candidate Dave Hedgepeth, Board of Education member-elect Patrick Mara, and former Councilmember Carol Schwartz are among possible GOP contenders.
* The D.C. Young Republicans went on the road this fall to help turn the House red -- and now the group wants to help the next GOP generations get coveted staff slots on Capitol Hill. “To all of you who sacrificed your free time volunteering on DCYRs On Tour, we want to say thank you for your support, hard work, and dedication to our great candidates,” the DCYRs say. “Now it is time to support YOU!” And that means “JOBS JOBS JOBS!!”
* Maryland is in a financial hole, with the Maryland Reporter saying the state’s 2012 deficit could pass $2 billion. The Examiner says Republicans are blaming Gov. Martin O’Malley “for relying on accounting maneuvers to help balance the budget.” Anthony O’Donnell, the top Republican in the House of Delegates, said, “We have a state on the verge of bankruptcy. Eventually there’s only so many pots of money to raid and the stimulus money is gone.” Meanwhile, the Post reports Montgomery County County Executive Isiah Leggett says that county faces its own deficit of nearly $200 million. The Examiner says Leggett “will submit a plethora of midyear cuts in coming weeks” to try to close the gap.
* The Post reports Sen. Mark Warner’s “successors in the Virginia governor’s mansion plan to have a laugh -- or two -- at his expense later this month” when Tim Kaine and Bob McDonnell roast Warner at a Nov. 22 Virginia Health Care Foundation benefit.
* The Post reports former Virginia finance secretary John W. Forbes II, who served under Gov. Jim Gilmore, has pleaded guilty to defrauding the Virginia Tobacco Commission of $4 million. He will be sentenced Monday.
* The Bloomingdale blog warns of a man claiming to be a police officer peeking into parked cars in the predawn hours.
* Tysons Corner, Gucci, and John Legend, together at last.
* The Just Up the Pike blog defends the “DMV” nickname for the District-Maryland-Virginia region. So there.
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC