With 19 museums, six research centers and the National Zoo, the Smithsonian gets 75 percent of its funding from the federal government. None of its museums or the zoo charge entrance fees -- although there are voluntary collection boxes.
Now a bipartisan commission on the federal deficit is suggesting that each visitor could pay as much as $7.50 to help reduce the national debt, a move that museum officials fear could hurt attendance.
Several school groups on the Mall Friday afternoon said the added expense could be the difference between having a field trip or canceling it.
Most tourists lining up for the museums said they wanted them to keep their free admission policies. But many other tourists told NBC Washington that the Smithsonian museums are so good, so educational and so entertaining that they wouldn't mind paying a fee.
Over the years, there have been a variety of proposals for entrances fees. None has ever been adopted, and in fact, it's expressly unlawful for four of them to charge admission.
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